Simone Dinnerstein / Kristjan Järvi / MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra

Broadway-Lafayette: Ravel, Lasser, Gershwin

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American pianist Simone Dinnerstein has attained extraordinary popularity with programs that put familiar repertory into new contexts, and also with novel kinds of concertizing (almost alone among classical musicians she has performed in prisons, for example). For those wondering what rabbit Dinnerstein will pull out of the hat next, Broadway-Lafayette (the title is both the name of a subway station in New York and an evocation of the album's Franco-American theme) may come as a bit of a disappointment. George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major, a work that brilliantly submitted itself to Gershwin's influence, have been recorded numerous times, often enough together, and the new work that links them, Philip Lasser's The Circle and the Child, doesn't make the case for its place on the program with them. The primary point seems to be that Lasser has one French and one American parent, but its musical progenitors are Bach and Debussy: an interesting mix, but one that doesn't bounce off Gershwin and Ravel very well. The better news is that the performances of the two major works, which frame the Lasser, are unusually good. Dinnerstein avoids fooling with the Rhapsody in Blue, delivering a straightforward performance of the common Grofé orchestration, not larding it down with sentiment or with jazz that isn't really there, and focusing on getting the notes clearly and cleanly played. In the Ravel, the jazz elements speak for themselves if given the chance, as Dinnerstein does here. The MDR Leipzig Symphony Orchestra under Kristjan Järvi does better with the Gershwin than almost any other European orchestra, and the result, if not a major release in the Dinnerstein canon, is a more-than-solid performance of two major 20th century piano concertos.

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