I hate to be the one to say this, but I don't get what all the Simone Dinnerstein fuss is about. People have been waxing poetic about her interpretive virtues and getting all frothy at the mouth in labeling her a kind of neo-Gould, but I just don't see it. As a matter of fact, I think the comparisons to Gould may be impacting her playing, which was on display last night at the Wigmore Hall, where she performed the Goldberg Variations complete with repeats and devoid of respite in a leisurely 97 minutes.
A few music writers have written about her recording of the Variations in historical terms, claiming that she infuses the piece with centuries of musical energy -- a touch of Prokofiev here, a smattering of Schubert there -- and while I enjoy the spirit of the argument, I'm at a bit of a loss to understand its purpose. Also, Gould's 1955 recording is the one most often cited in Dinnerstein commentary, which is odd for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Dinnerstein's recording is more comparable in spirit and tempo to Gould's 1981 effort, and secondly, Gould was very vocal about his preference for the later recording and his embarrassment concerning the first. Just listen to his 1981 interview with Tim Page. More importantly, however, is the very real possibility that the comparison is wholly unfair. Gould's recording might sound very liberal, but it's actually fastidiously unified by an unwavering pulse. His tempos sometimes stray from the norm, but they remain sensible and, above all, musical, thanks to their relationship to the rigours of Baroque structure. Dinnerstein, on the other hand, approaches the Variations more Romantically, particularly in her use of rubato, and is far less capable than Gould at clearly expressing polyphonic voices, which is, after all, the name of the game where Baroque keyboard music is concerned.
All told, however, I'm not really that interested in Dinnerstein's relationship to Gould. If anything, I think too much attention is being paid to it and I believe that certain features in her Wigmore performance bear out this opinion. There were several instances where Dinnerstein seemed to be making a deliberate effort to do something different than Gould, and the majority of these attempts fell a bit flat. Rubato and spacious tempi are all fine and good, but it's worth considering that the former occupies a tenuous position in Baroque playing, and the latter is at its most effective when used for considered purpose. Unfortunately, some of the repeats only served to highlight the voids in Dinnerstein's blueprint, and while there were plenty of delightful, and sometimes surprising, moments, the performance as a whole was deflated by its periods of stagnation.
Still, Dinnerstein's a good pianist, and her story's pretty remarkable. It's for these two reasons that I might continue to listen.