Simone Dinnerstein begins her program with the minor-key partita,
and leaves the major-key one for the end, thus traveling from
shade to light. Between these we hear one of the sets of Schubert’s
Impromptus. The two worlds are brought closer together.
The concept of this album was inspired by Philip Larkin’s
poem The Trees, and especially by the line The trees
are coming into leaf / Like something almost being said.
That’s what Dinnerstein hears in these works: the music
almost equals words in eloquence. I expect this album to raise
controversial reactions from listeners: those more “educated”
may call her playing mannered and self-indulgent, while those
more open-minded might say it’s inspired and eye-opening.
I am with the latter group, and enjoyed this disc a lot. Its
gains outweigh its shortcomings.
From the opening Sinfonia of the Second Partita,
one hears the defining trait of Dinnerstein’s interpretation:
it is simple but expressive, expressive in every note. The piano
sound is beautiful, like little lamenting bells. All voices
in the fugue are clearly heard. Her Allemande is slow,
almost in a sarabande tempo, and instead of lively coolness
we get an intimate soliloquy, more spiritual than dance-like.
On the other hand, her Courante is agile and fluid, with
a beautiful pattern of ornamentation. The Sarabande is
very slow and loses any reference to a dance, especially after
a light rubato is added; this is a pensive, tranquil
aria. Rondeau and Capriccio are brisk and sharp,
with almost Glenn Gould-ish articulation and drive. Despite
the minor key, the pianist brings out smiles and happiness,
and projects the feeling of rolling forward with wind in the
face. The performance is gripping.
Dinnerstein lays out the first Impromptu with thick and
dramatic colors, losing the mysterious qualities of this music.
This is a big Romantic ballad of almost Lisztian grandeur. It
is a big-boned reading - and a bit heavy. Her second Impromptu
is shaded. In its middle section, the pianist employs a weird
torn and “stumbling” rhythm, and I don’t like
it. It is disturbing. Maybe the idea was to highlight the contrast
between the flying, Ariel of the outer parts and the rough Caliban
of the middle part and coda, but the result seems to be coarser
than needed. The third Impromptu is very Lisztian, a precursor
of all his Consolations and Liebesträume.
Dinnerstein plays it like a beautiful Nocturne, with emotional
depth and a soft glow. She handles the dynamic changes very
naturally and effectively, and the result is as lovely as it
can be. The fourth Impromptu combines Chopin’s waltzing
lightness with yearning saudade which is pure Schubert.
In her hands, the music is not always airborne, and loses some
of its lightness and charm in the outer, mercurial sections,
together with the feeling of continuity. The inner part is tense
and loaded with pathos and edge, as if it was written by Schumann.
Dinnerstein’s Prelude to the First Partita
is atypically slow, about twice as slow as we may be used to.
She sings it out, not dances it, and imbues it with dreamy serenity,
showing its common traits with the Air on G String. Her
Allemande is bright morning music, not too busy, with
some degree of relaxation and organ-like spaciousness. Courante
is quite fast and bouncy, with Baroque precision. This is active,
Vivaldian summer-music, with thunder never too far away. Dinnerstein’s
Sarabande is solemn yet expressive. This is timeless
meditation, soothing and relaxing. The Minuet is more
gentle than playful, which is a pity, since much of its appeal
is in this playfulness. Also, the left hand is subdued, which
leads to a flatter picture. Minuet II is very slow. I
cannot see the logic of this. The pianist does not observe the
da capo marking and does not repeat Minuet I.
Her Gigue is much romanticized, and sounds like another
Schubert’s impromptu. As a result, its structure, which
is based on forward-flying speed to make it not fall apart,
is sometimes hanging loose. On the other hand, it provides a
good, unifying ending to the entire disc.
Overall, the program is played with love and tenderness; it
is an expressive, emotional reading. This is one of the cases
when it is probably wrong to grade each track separately, as
together they form a whole and harmonious structure. While I
had reservations about separate parts, they all play their role
in the big picture, which has sense and proportion. Listening
to the entire disc leaves me with the feeling of beautiful art,
meaningful and intimate. Dinnerstein’s tone is silky throughout,
and her playing is very personal, which is supported by a closely
miked recording. The idea of putting Bach side by side with
Schubert is imaginative, and the combination really works here.
The Bach purists should avoid this disc: it will confront too
many of their opinions on how this music is supposed to be played.
It will appeal to listeners who are more interested in the music
touching their heart than in it sounding “right”.
This record will probably not replace your favorites in either
of the works, but it provides an interesting personal view.
And make no mistake, there is magic here.