Like a slowly-whirling centrifuge, Philip Glass’s beguiling new Piano Concerto No. 3 — given its world premiere at Jordan Hall on Friday by A Far Cry and pianist Simone Dinnerstein — isolates and concentrates two aspects of the composer’s personality long in particularly intriguing tension: his romantic streak and his meditative austerity. Much of the concerto is a lush churn of unsettled harmonies, soloist and string orchestra in search of resolution. Yet resolution comes not with triumph, but by deliberate, cyclical turns.
Dinnerstein opened with a gentle clutch of full, familiar triadic chords, shifting by seconds and thirds, the tonality both enveloping and undermining itself. Throughout the first two movements, minor-tinged melodies and portions of quiet, chromatic bravura from the piano were like 19th-century ghosts drifting in and out of the shadows. Most fascinating was how the steady rhythmic engine was manipulated to produce something like Romantic-era rubato: by polyrhythms in the first movement, steady two-against-three rhythms suddenly leaning into one or the other, and additive rhythms in the second movement, an extra tick of the clock here and there producing a charmingly mechanical swoon.
A ruminative cadenza led into the finale, dedicated to the Estonian minimalist Arvo Pärt, and, more than the other two movements, unfolding along classic minimalist lines. Three simple, open-ended progressions, delicately smudged by dissonance, repeated and circled one another with tolling, deliberate tread. It’s a drawn-out statement — the slow-turning gears of karmic alignment — but the players sustained the mood with conviction. Throughout, both Dinnerstein and the Criers seized on opportunities for expression; Glass’s engineered rubato was often pressed home with a dose of the genuine article. But they also caught and held the music’s patient grandeur, giving each phrase, each chord judicious gravity.
The program linked Glass with Johann Sebastian Bach, both composers dedicated to process, craft, and prolific industry. The concerto was preceded by Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G minor (BWV 1058), which Dinnerstein shaped along Glass-like lines: bell-like melodies, repetitive passagework brought to the fore, everything — fast, slow, soft, loud — articulated with firm clarity. The concert’s first half provided more contrast. The opener, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (BWV 1048), began as an elegant affair, but grew more roisterous as it went, with the final movement taken at an almost comically breakneck clip: well-dressed guests sliding down banisters and pushing one another into fountains. The constant activity of Glass’s Symphony No. 3, though, its locked grooves and driving lines, subsumed expressive energy into even-keeled insistence, its drama rendered as a single landscape, viewed from above. Planets whirl, too.
A Far Cry
With Simone Dinnerstein
At Jordan Hall, Friday
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.