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 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. 

Oleg Ledeniov 

Expressive, emotional readings.