Simone Dinnerstein Plays Her Favorite Bach in Istanbul

TurkeyTurkey  J.S. Bach:  Simone Dinnerstein (piano), Istanbul Recitals at ‘The Seed’, Istanbul 12.5.12 (AM)

J. S. Bach:  French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816; Keyboard Partita No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 826; English Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808; Keyboard Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major; BWV 825

I still had my fond memories of Simone Dinnerstein’s outstanding Bach from her 2010 recital in Istanbul with me as I barely made it to the concert hall in time, since the city was crippled by a big soccer game. As the majority of the Turks tussled with the life-or-death question of who would be the season’s champion, the query I had was how Ms. Dinnerstein’s G-minor English Suite would fare against her performance of it two seasons ago: was it even possible that she would improve it, and also, why, oh why hadn’t she included a Schubert piece in her program, in line with her latest release? Of course I’m perfectly fine with an evening of undiluted Bach, especially if it is presented by a pianist whom I consider to be one of today’s leading interpreters of Bach, even though her program included nothing novel (each piece scheduled for the evening is already included in her three commercial recordings).

One thing immediately noticeable in Ms. Dinnerstein’s Bach is that there is very-little-to-no variance between her recordings and her live performances, which, is naturally a sign of her competence in her repertoire. But at the same time, it leaves very little room for spontaneity and surprise. Her G-Major French Suite started in the same sweet and jaunty air as it does in her Berlin Concert. Her Allemande’s quick in-and-out dips into minor territory were understated with the help of the soft pedal. The Sarabande was played with minimum rubato and her steady – occasionally staccato – trills, used to excellent effect, giving way to a sharp and alert Gavotte with a very clear distinction between the right and the left hands. This is very hard to do convincingly, since the melody is often somewhere in the midst of a chord.

The Sinfonia of the C-Minor partita that followed opened with a grave organ section, but the movement got progressively lighter as it became faster in the subsequent two interludes. Ms. Dinnerstein refrained from pushing the rest of the suite, concentrating instead on bringing out the contrapuntal qualities of the music – until the closing Capriccio, that is, when she flaunted the dexterity of her fingers, both left and right.

The second half opened with the wonderful G-Minor English Suite, an opportunity to gauge her progress over the last two years. Her performance of the piece in 2010 was executed with razor-thin precision topped with tasteful decorations. This evening was no different: Simone Dinnerstein jumped right into the Prelude full of confidence. She masterfully brought out the orchestral colorings in Bach’s music, offering the audience a wide palette of tones and textures. Ms. Dinnerstein does not use the sustain pedal in Bach; rather, she depends on her seamless legato to create the illusion of harmonic overlays. After a graceful Allemande and a flowing Courante in which she ran the parallel lines in perfect harmony, she went ahead with a momentous Sarabande, taking her time and playing all the repeats with a somewhat stand-offish posture. I imagine she wanted to create as big a contrast as she could to the upcoming Gavotte dances. These were as good as I remembered them. With only occasional flourishes, which never got in the way of the music, she concluded with a rapid but controlled Gigue. Her left and right hands were equally attention-grabbing, since Bach’s wonderful composition divides the music equally between the two. Her advanced technique notwithstanding, the Suite as a whole had a more introspective quality to it compared to her previous effort.

The evening came to a close with a B-flat Major Partita which dissected Bach’s music to its bare minimums. The unusually slow pace of the Prelude paid utmost attention to every bar and phrase, while sustaining a pleasant beat. The gentle tempo followed onto a yearning Allemande, and a staccato Courante serving as a bridge to a lengthy Sarabande, full of hope, and two playful Minuets. Ms. Dinnerstein’s Gigue was low-key and ended her program on a graceful note. Often, the applause a pianist receives is directly proportional to the fireworks s/he creates at the end of a concert. One has to congratulate a pianist who dares finish her recital with such great placidity. The only encore, ‘Von Fremden Ländern und Menschen’ from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, also attested to a pianist more interested in music than accolades.

Although she presented a rather safe program by her own standards, Simone Dinnerstein proved once again that she is one of the few remaining pianists who are capable not only of mastering, but, more importantly, of thinking about Bach.

Alain Matalon