Bach Inventions and Sinfonias from Simone Dinnerstein

Bach Interpreter Releases New Album

Graphic by CTW.
For adult piano students, the Bach Two-Part Inventions and the Sinfonias are a rite of passage. Bach “merely meant to write a few simple exercises,” wrote Albert Schweitzer in J.S. Bach, yet “what he actually wrote were compositions that no one forgets who has once played them, and to which the adult returns with ever new delight” (Dover, 1966).

I’ve not had the opportunity to listen to all of the Inventions, and I’ve only played the first two, the steadfast Bach Invention in C Major and the contemplative C Minor. As for the Sinfonias, I barely know them. My musical education has gaps from when I lost the piano in my teens until I took it up again 25 years later. So the international concert pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s new album released last month, wholly devoted to the Bach Inventions and Sinfonias, was for me full of discoveries.

Leading off the album are all 15 Two-Part Inventions. My first discovery was Invention No. 3 in D Major (BMV 779). The music, which lasts all of a fleeting 50 seconds, attracted me for its happy swirl of activity.  And here, as is the case throughout the album, is Simone Dinnerstein’s characteristic dewdrop tone, full and glistening at the same time, and her subtle moments of tempo rubato:

Bach Invention No. 3 in D Major: Clip from Simone Dinnerstein’s Bach Inventions and Sinfonias


I also savored Invention No. 15 in B Minor (BMV 786). Before listening, I made the incorrect assumption from the key that the music might be mournful. The way Simone Dinnerstein plays the main motif—with a portato (or semi-detached) touch on the eighth notes and spirited turns—gives the music the feeling of a ballroom of people dancing at court, stately on the surface, but with their passions throbbing underneath:

Bach Invention No. 15 in B Minor: Clip from Simone Dinnerstein’s Bach Inventions and Sinfonias


The second half of the album consists of the 15 Sinfonias, a series of inventions Bach composed in three parts, or voices. After stumbling onto Sinfonia No. 5 in E-flat Major (BMV 789), I was immediately captivated. This music is a ringing example of how, as Ms. Dinnerstein herself maintains, Bach can sound surprisingly modern. Transmitted by her fingers, the bass arpeggios sound like a gentle guitar, with a hint of playfulness. Meanwhile, the two treble voices are like two women having coffee, now bending towards each other, then leaning back in their chairs:

Bach Sinfonia No. 5 in E-flat Major: Clip from Simone Dinnerstein’s Bach Inventions and Sinfonias


I also became intoxicated with Sinfonia No. 2 in C Minor (BMV 788). With the music’s slower pace, I found identifying the three voices, and listening to how they migrated between treble and bass, to be easier to hear on my first listening. (And following along with the score was also helpful.) Simone Dinnerstein’s rendition is an amazing example of timbre, a word almost as difficult to pronounce as it is to define, essentially meaning the quality of the sound. I loved the sparkle in the opening high treble voice—the trill is stars tumbling down—while the opening bass voice has almost a brass quality:

Bach Sinfonia No. 2 in C Minor: Clip from Simone Dinnerstein’s Bach Inventions and Sinfonias


Simone Dinnerstein is a New York-based pianist who gained an international following because of the remarkable success of her recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which she raised the funds to record. Dedicated to her community, in 2009 Ms. Dinnerstein founded Neighborhood Classics, a concert series open to the public and hosted by New York City public schools. She is a graduate of The Juilliard School, where she was a student of Peter Serkin.

Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

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