A concert of contrasts is taking place this weekend at Kleinhans Music Hall. JoAnn Falletta is back in town to lead the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, with guest artist Simone Dinnerstein, in Beethoven and Bartok.

The works by Bartok, “Two Portraits” and “Kossuth,” are being recorded for release next year on the BPO’s next Naxos CD.

And for the Beethoven half of the program, Dinnerstein is playing Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto.

Dinnerstein attended Juilliard, where she studied with Peter Serkin, but otherwise she has had an unusual career. She financed her own debut CD, of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, and was subsequently signed by Telarc and then by Sony. Her recordings have soared into the classical charts. She presents her performances – Bach, especially – on disc in a way that draws the audience in.

As a fan, I was looking forward to seeing Dinnerstein in person.

She plays with impeccable loveliness. The Beethoven Second isn’t one of the concertos you wake up excited about hearing, but once you sit down with it, it wraps itself around you. The Adagio was the highlight, as I had expected it would be. It is like a harbinger of the slow movement of the “Emperor” Concerto. It has that overwhelming tenderness.

Dinnerstein was clearly appreciative of the music’s sensual, caressing qualities, qualities you find often in Beethoven’s music and for which he does not get nearly enough credit. Her tone was sometimes whispery soft, and yet every note was distinct.

She played the first and last movements, which remind me of Mozart’s early piano concertos, with technique that was close to flawless. It was a pleasure to hear her flick off a shower of notes, lightning-quick, each note separate and sculpted just so.

The flip side of that is that her playing could be on the dry side, too delicate, too glassy. Given the warmth of her recordings, it surprised me that her approach was so cool. You could not argue, though, that it was a beautiful performance, in its pristine way. The large Coffee Concert crowd gave it a big hand, and Dinnerstein rewarded the applause with a Bach encore.

The concert, which repeats at 8 tonight, began with Georges Enesco’s “Rumanian Rhapsody” in A, Op. 11a. This lively piece is one of the great famous light classics of yesteryear. A friend remembered it from Looney Tunes cartoons. There is a part when all the strings are panting together frantically that she said was always heard in chase scenes.

The Bartok also involved a lot of bombast.

The highlight, though, was the piece that did not. The first of the “Two Portraits” is “Ideal,” a smoldering Andante in which Concertmaster Michael Ludwig stepped forward as soloist.

You could see this music as the soundtrack to a dark romantic movie. It is abstract but absorbing – heart-melting in its uneasy way. Ludwig, a superb violinist, brought out its poignancy and depth. The orchestra seemed to be breathing with him. We should hear this music more.

The other “Portrait,” a presto called “Grotesque,” was noisy and over in a flash. The 20-minute “Kossuth” was also a riot of sound.

Because of concert and recording logistics, the audience is getting a big dose of Bartok all in one sitting, particularly considering that the Enescu rhapsody had a similar spirit. It does not help, either, that “Kossuth” is based on a distant conflict, between Hungary and Austria. The sections bear subtitles like “Tyranny will command our Fate: The lawless Hapsburg armies in full force.”

It amounts to a tremendous amount of noise, like a fireworks display that goes on too long. Still, you had to admire the orchestra’s skill, and there was a lot of adept solo and ensemble playing. This music is fun to watch. Keep an eye on the percussion section, where people are always dashing around.

Concert Review

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

“Bartok and Beethoven” with Music Director JoAnn Falletta and pianist Simone Dinnerstein, Friday morning and 8 p.m. today in Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle. Tickets are $28-$76. Call 885-5000 or visit