Si­mone Din­ner­stein’s Bach: ‘A Strange Beauty’ in­deed

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS - BY MARK ESTREN style@wash­post.com Estren is a free­lance writer.

Poised, el­e­gant, won­der­fully played and very, very ro­man­tic, Si­mone Din­ner­stein’s new Bach CD con­veys what its ti­tle prom­ises: “Bach: A Strange Beauty.” Whether it delivers mostly Bach or mostly Din­ner­stein, though, de­pends on the lis­tener’s feel­ings about in­ter­pret­ing this mu­sic. Din­ner­stein of­fers beau­ti­ful Bach, but it is far from his­tor­i­cally in­formed Bach in terms of pre­sen­ta­tion. It is not just that Din­ner­stein makes full use of the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of a mod­ern pi­ano — it is that she em­ploys them to ex­tract emo­tion from the mu­sic that not all be­lieve Bach put there.

Re­ac­tion to this CD will de­pend on one’s feel­ing about the word “ex­pres­sive­ness.” Din­ner­stein ar­gues, both ver­bally and through her per­for­mances, against the no­tion that Bach’s foun­da­tional reg­u­lar­ity is the core of his mu­sic. It is the vari­ances from the reg­u­lar on which she fo­cuses — the syn­co­pa­tion, the cross­ing of bar lines.

This leads to some highly in­trigu­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions: In the English Suite No. 3, the Pre­lude is prac­ti­cally Chopinesque, and the Alle­mande and Sara­bande scarcely seem to be dances at all, while the three tran­scribed cho­rale pre­ludes par­take of depth of feel­ing that would not be out of place in 19th-cen­tury mu­sic. But there is no swoon­ing any­where: Al­though this is emo­tive Bach, rang­ing from the con­tem­pla­tive to the ex­u­ber­ant, it is never un­con­trolled.

Is this “au­then­tic” Bach? If by that a lis­tener means Bach played in ac­cor­dance with the notes as writ­ten, on pe­riod , then the an­swer is no. There is scarcely a bar in ei­ther con­certo with­out a mod­icum of ru­bato, and even the 14-piece Kam­merorch­ester Staatskapelle Ber­lin, while de­fer­ring to pe­riod per­for­mance prac­tices, uses mod­ern in­stru­ments (and does so well, giv­ing the con­cer­tos the feel­ing of cham­ber works in which the pi­ano is merely first among equals).

But if one agrees that there is sub­stan­tial un­der­ly­ing emo­tion, not merely math­e­mat­i­cal pre­ci­sion, in Bach’s mu­sic, then Din­ner­stein’s read­ings may be said to plumb these works’ gen­uine depths.

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