First off is the world in which this music took performance shape. This was in fact the third album Simone recorded during the Pandemic, and that isolated ponderousness surely influenced what she chose and how she approached it all. (Type her name in the search box for reviews of the other two companion volumes.) And then too note the title Undersong. This, Ms. Dinnerstein tells us, is a somewhat archaic term referring to songs that have a refrain, that return to a theme continuously. Another way to say it is that the music has a return, a repetition that molds our perception of how we hear it in time and aural space.
Simone's poetic demeanor is apparent in how she describes the project. Each of the composers returns repeatedly to the central thematic material and by so doing transforms the music--harmonically differing, rhythmically transformed, etc., each pass-through varying in some significant way. And out of that Simone recalls a key part of the life as she lived it in lockdown. As she worked with these pieces in the fall of 2020 she also took daily afternoon walks through Green-Wood Cemetery, with each heading outwards and then returning like a different treatment of her existential refrain. And truly, I listened to this album a few times before reading the notes, and once I did I understood her own meditations behind the music and her life and it made sense to me.
As you listen and gradually understand how Simone was feeling through the music and her daily walks you start feeling the connectivity of the works--which are widely selected from a worthy gathering from a number of periods. Each work is given a very reflective interpretively poetic reading that sets all this apart.
So we have as bookebnds at the beginning and end Couperin's lovely "Les Barricades Mysterieuses" and in the middle Couperin's :"Tic Toc Choc." Then on either end towards the middle are two by Schumann--the "Arabesque" and his "Kreisleriana" (the latter of which is totally ravishing here, deeply introspected, then explosive in turn.). Phillip Glass's "Mad Rush" takes flight in Simone's hands, bringing it together in a very skillfully poetic way. Finally there is Satie's gorgeous "Gnossienne No. 3."
Each one of these works gets reflected and refracted in Ms. Dinnerstein's deepest musical wells, so that after a few listens you understand that Simone is gifting us with a kind of focus all her own. So for me anyway the program keeps on getting better, for there are nuances you start picking up on the more you give it all your attention.
Hearing this I am moved. It is a set of performances that reflect and transcend the horror of what we have been through, consoling us that if nothing else the true artists will give us a reason to get through..
Dinnerstein reaches far into the center of this music. Highly recommended.