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An Intimate Space For a Reverie by Simone Dinnerstein

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

No other American city this side of San Francisco is more proud of its quirks than Baltimore. Among the happiest of these is the presence of An die Musik, a small store devoted to handpicked recordings of classical music, jazz and esoterica located in the midst of a gigantic mansion on Charles Street. Against the odds, An die Musik (the name comes from a song by Schubert) continues to thrive, while gigantic chain stores such as Tower and HMV have closed down all over the country.

In recent years, An die Musik has been presenting concerts in a small, comfortably furnished space on its second floor. And it was here that the young, New York-based pianist Simone Dinnerstein, whose Telarc recording of Bach's "Goldberg Variations" is currently among the top-selling classical discs in the country, played on Sunday afternoon to a capacity audience of barely 125 people.

It is difficult to predict a time span for any performance of the "Goldberg Variations." The late Glenn Gould raced through his 1955 recording in about 35 minutes, taking headlong tempos and observing no repeats. More typically, a performance will last about an hour, and some musicians have let it go on for a full 90 minutes.

Dinnerstein's rendition -- smart, lyrical, multifaceted, deeply felt -- took about 75 minutes to unfold. She took almost all of the repeats but never seemed dogmatic about it; everything she played sounded both varied and urgent, as though it had to be there. Most of her tempos were leisurely, although her choices were by no means predictable -- and, indeed, I'm not sure that I've ever heard Variation 17 played so briskly.

Although Dinnerstein is clearly an accomplished technician, she does not call attention to that aspect of her artistry. On the contrary, she seems absolutely uninterested in "wowing" her public and would rather make it think. She built her "Goldbergs" as a meticulously structured reverie.

She has one unusual habit: On the occasions when her fingers or her memory would fail her for a moment, she immediately sped up for a few measures, as though to put space between herself and her human fallibility as quickly as possible. I was reminded of a swimmer in the middle of a long race, summoning additional, desperate energy to push toward the finish line.

There was no intermission. Nevertheless, halfway through the concert, at the pivotal break between Variations 15 and 16, the house air-conditioning, which had been turned off to permit Dinnerstein to play without any rumble, was turned back on, at her request, in order to keep the pianist cool and comfortable. It was a fair trade.

A tribute to John Coltrane, a program of Beethoven by the pianist Soheil Nasseri, and an evening of Brazilian music are among the events promised by An die Musik for the rest of September.

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