Pianist Simone Dinnerstein has a reputation for doing things her way. She began her career on the late side, not with a stack of competition laurels, but with a self-financed recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” in 2007 that promptly went viral. At first glance, the program of her Washington Performing Arts concert at the Kennedy Center on Thursday night seemed an odd juxtaposition of largely repetitive music. There was no intermission (only a brief break halfway through), and Dinnerstein played everything virtually without pause, each piece segueing into the next.
Two early-18th-century pieces by François Couperin bracketed the first half, enfolding Schumann’s “Arabeske” and Philip Glass’s “Mad Rush” from 1979. Then Erik Satie’s enigmatic “Gnossienne No. 3” prefaced the most challenging of Schumann’s piano cycles, “Kreisleriana.”
Dinnerstein’s stage manner is disarmingly unaffected, and once seated at the piano, her concentration becomes riveting. Her intoxicatingly rich, velvety sound always retains agility and translucence. She risks slow tempos that suspend time without sacrificing the musical thread, and when things heat up the room seems ready to burst into flames. Ultimately, it is Dinnerstein’s unreserved identification with every note she plays that makes her performance so spellbinding.
The vast architecture of Glass’s “Mad Rush” was shot through with ever-changing light, creating a hypnotic effect with a delicate symbiosis of the physical and spiritual. The recurring affability in Schumann’s “Arabeske” progressed into anguished yearning. It was in the confiding intimacy of “Kreisleriana,” however, that Dinnerstein’s gifts held their most powerful sway. Secrets of troubles and joys, obsession and aspiration were imparted with rhetorical poise and rhythmic vigor. Schumann’s famous “inner voices” blossomed as psychological necessities.
Dinnerstein is an artist of strikingly original ideas and irrefutable integrity. These attributes, combined with elegance and grace, lend her music-making its captivating beauty.