Notes and Editorial Reviews
15 Two-Part Inventions,
15 Three-Part Sinfonias,
Simone Dinnerstein (pn)
SONY 88843009102 (51:24)
My reaction to Simone Dinnerstein’s debut album of Bach’s
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, 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.
Ultimately, Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias are exercises in learning to decouple the hands in order for them to function independently
each other as well as in coordination
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.
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