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Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias / Simone Dinnerstein


Release Date: 01/21/2014 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 300910   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



BACH 15 Two-Part Inventions, BWV 772–786. 15 Three-Part Sinfonias, BWV 787–801 Simone Dinnerstein (pn) SONY 88843009102 (51:24)


My reaction to Simone Dinnerstein’s debut album of Bach’s Goldberg Variations was not a positive one, and so, not wanting to heap criticism on the head of a budding young artist, I decided to defer on reviewing it. Colleague James Reel, Read more however, who interviewed the pianist in 31:2, had a more favorable, if guarded reaction. But exactly two years later, in 33:2, I had occasion to review Dinnerstein partnering Zuill Bailey in Beethoven’s cello sonatas on Telarc, and this time there was a happy ending.


It’s now over four years later, and Dinnerstein once again returns to Bach, having in the interim recorded a couple of the composer’s keyboard partitas, one of each of the English and French suites, and two of the concertos in mixed programs of solo and concerted works. Here she tends to the 15 Two-Part Inventions and 15 Three-Part Sinfonias, which, once upon a time, when I was growing up, were known as the 15 Three-Part Inventions.


Composed for his students as keyboard exercises for developing independence of the hands in contrapuntal playing, Bach began penning these pieces probably in 1721, completing the autograph fair copy in 1723. Like Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier , completed one year earlier, Bach follows an almost identical plan of stepwise ascending pairs in major and parallel minor keys. The difference is that nine keys are omitted, so that we get 15 numbers instead of 24. Also, the pattern is broken three times in the same places, as explained below. It’s interesting to observe which keys Bach uses and which he avoids because it tells us something about the purpose of these studies.


C/c D/d E? E/e F/f G/g A/a B? b


C?/c? e? F?/f? A?/a? b? B


The top row in the above table shows the keys used; the bottom row shows the keys not used. Inventions are paired, just as the preludes and fugues are in the WTC , one in the major key followed by one in the parallel minor—C Major/C Minor, D Major/D Minor, and so on.


Unlike in the WTC , however, in the Inventions and Sinfonias, Bach skips certain pairs altogether—C? Major/C? Minor, F? Major/F? Minor, and A? Major/A? Minor.


More unusual is where Bach breaks the pairing pattern in two places to give us Inventions in the major keys of E? Major and B? Major, without their paired minor-key Inventions in E? Minor and B? Minor; and in one place to give us an invention in the minor key, B Minor, without its paired major-key invention in B Major.


Why would Bach have avoided those keys in the bottom row of the table, when he’d already proved the efficacy of a keyboard tuned to a well-tempered system the year before in his WTC , and when he appears to be starting off his Inventions and Sinfonias with the same idea in mind?


I would postulate that it was because all of the avoided keys but one, F? Minor, have more than three sharps or flats, and only two of the included keys, E Major and F Minor have four sharps and four flats respectively. In other words, Bach avoids keys with too many sharps or flats in the key signature, for which I would further postulate the reason was to not overtax his students by training their eyes at the same time he was trying to train their fingers. In other words, focus on one thing at a time, and don’t make things more difficult than they need to be.


Besides, except in theoretical works, like Bach’s WTC , before the 19th century, those keys in the bottom row of the table (with the possible exceptions of F? Minor and A? Major) are found only rarely in musical works, and not only because so many sharps and flats make them difficult to read and play. Woodwind and brass players did not yet have instruments with the mechanical apparatus to play in such chromatically remote keys, while string players would find themselves without the use of some of their open strings.


Those handicaps, of course, did not exist for keyboard instruments, once equal temperament tuning became the law of the land. But no matter, for with a technique like Simone Dinnerstein’s, I’m sure she could transpose the right hand of the C-Minor Invention to C? Minor at sight, while simultaneously playing the left hand of the B?-Major Invention in the missing B Major. It would sound hideous, of course (though probably no more so than some modern pieces I’ve heard), but I don’t doubt her ability to pull it off.


Ultimately, Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias are exercises in learning to decouple the hands in order for them to function independently against each other as well as in coordination with each other. But there is more to these pieces than just the physical mechanics involved in playing them. To appreciate them fully it is necessary, I think, to hear them on two dimensions, as technique building exercises and as studies in contrapuntal composition.


Simone Dinnerstein’s performances illustrate that multi-dimensional understanding with remarkable clarity and finesse. Her impeccable finger-work makes manifest the high standards of technical execution to which Bach held his students, while at the same time, her lyrical—I’m almost tempted to say, rhapsodic—expressive readings reveal the inner beauties of these exercises, which are more musically sophisticated than they might seem in lesser hands.


Dinnerstein’s 1903 Hamburg Steinway, an instrument of grand virtues, is captured beautifully by Sony’s production team in two different venues. The Inventions were recorded in June 2012 at New York’s American Academy of Arts and Letters; the Sinfonias in July 2013, at the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, New York. Strongly recommended.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1. Two-Part Inventions (15), BWV 772-786 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
2. Two-Part Invention no 1 in C major, BWV 772 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
3. Two-Part Invention no 2 in C minor, BWV 773 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
4. Two-Part Invention no 3 in D major, BWV 774 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
5. Two-Part Invention no 4 in D minor, BWV 775 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
6. Two-Part Invention no 5 in E flat major, BWV 776 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
7. Two-Part Invention no 6 in E major, BWV 777 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
8. Two-Part Invention no 7 in E minor, BWV 778 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
9. Two-Part Invention no 8 in F major, BWV 779 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
10. Two-Part Invention no 9 in F minor, BWV 780 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
11. Two-Part Invention no 10 in G major, BWV 781 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
12. Two-Part Invention no 11 in G minor, BWV 782 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
13. Two-Part Invention no 12 in A major, BWV 783 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
14. Two-Part Invention no 13 in A minor, BWV 784 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
15. Two-Part Invention no 14 in B flat major, BWV 785 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
16. Two-Part Invention no 15 in B minor, BWV 786 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
17. Three-Part Inventions (15), BWV 787-801 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
18. Two-Part Invention no 1 in C major, BWV 772 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
19. Three-Part Invention no 2 in C minor, BWV 788 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
20. Three-Part Invention no 3 in D major, BWV 789 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
21. Three-Part Invention no 4 in D minor, BWV 790 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
22. Three-Part Invention no 5 in E flat major, BWV 791 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
23. Three-Part Invention no 6 in E major, BWV 792 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
24. Three-Part Invention no 7 in E minor, BWV 793 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
25. Three-Part Invention no 8 in F major, BWV 794 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
26. Three-Part Invention no 9 in F minor, BWV 795 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
27. Three-Part Invention no 10 in G major, BWV 796 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
28. Three-Part Invention no 11 in G minor, BWV 797 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
29. Three-Part Invention no 12 in A major, BWV 798 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
30. Three-Part Invention no 13 in A minor, BWV 799 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
31. Three-Part Invention no 14 in B flat major, BWV 800 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 
32. Three-Part Invention no 15 in B minor, BWV 801 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Simone Dinnerstein (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Cöthen, Germany 

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