Something Almost Being Said
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No.2 in C minor, BWV 826 (c.1725-1730) [22:18]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Four Impromptus Op.90, D.889 (1827) [31:49]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Partita No.1 in B-flat major, BWV 825 (c.1725-1730) [20:24]
Simone Dinnerstein (piano)
rec. 10-14 August 2011, The American Academy of Arts and Letter, New York. DDD.
SONY CLASSICAL 88697998242 [74:38]
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
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.
Expressive, emotional readings.