After the lockdown devastated the performing arts in general, Simone Dinnerstein was one of the few who seemed to have been particularly energized in the time since Cuomo’s fascist takeover of this state. Maybe it helps that she’s a pianist, accustomed to playing solo. Undeterred, she keeps putting out good albums. One particularly noteworthy release is A Character of Quiet – Schubert and Glass, streaming at Spotify.
It’s actually not nearly as quiet as the title implies. Dinnerstein opens the record with Philip Glass’ Etude No. 16, No. 6, a disarmingly catchy but characteristically brooding piece built around close-harmonied chords with a rather odd, possibly intentional resemblance to a familiar indie rock guitar progression. Dinnerstein offers smart contrast between slightly muted lefthand and an emphatic right, following a long rainbow arc to its reward.
Etude No. 6 is cruelly difficult, its stabbing righthand alternating with the moody, similarly staccato chords in the left. It’s a good study in how to play Glass in general, and Dinnerstein’s even-handed attack is breathtaking when you consider the challenges she has to meet. Her background playing idiosyncratic (many would say hubristic) Bach repertoire on the piano strongly informs her alternatingly floating and crushing technique.
The final Glass etude is No. 2, played with a wary hesitancy yet attuned to the piece’s inner hypnotic quality. Dinnerstein closes with a revelatory, Rosetta Stone take of Schubert’s symphonic-length Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960. Shifting between baroque reserve and a strikingly articulated, puckish staccato in the first movement, she finds cynical humor and unexpected flickers of pathos where others just barrel through. This is serious musical sleuthing.
She builds a deep-sky panorama and then approaches the burgeoning anthem in the second movement with considerable restraint. The way she laughs through her fingers in the scherzo of a waltz afterward is just plain common sense, she seems to be telling us. A persistent tension slowly becomes a balance between reserve and jubilation in the concluding movement as she brings the piece full circle.