Simone Dinnerstein's "A Strange Beauty"

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We tend to think of J.S. Bach as the most logical of all composers. His formal rigor drives the 32 Goldberg Variations and the 48 preludes and fugues of The Well-Tempered Clavier, among other precisely balanced creations. Simone Dinnerstein hears things differently.

On "Bach: A Strange Beauty," she goes looking for the expected patterns, the off-kilter rhythms and the mysterious and hyper-expressive sounds in the composer's music. This collection -- which contains three transcriptions of his Chorale Preludes, two Keyboard Concertos and one English Suite -- is our Album of the Week.

The Brooklyn-based Dinnerstein is no stranger to pushing the envelope when it comes to Bach interpretation. In 2007, she achieved an unexpected breakthrough after teaching herself and recording the Goldberg Variations. Telarc picked up the album and it became one of the year’s biggest success stories. The originality of her interpretation surprised (and, in a few cases, puzzled) many who were familiar with this work.

On Dinnerstein’s Sony debut, she continues her quest to draw out unexpected qualities in Bach. Her penchant for shading effects and for contrasts in dynamics is particularly found in the Prelude arrangements. A haze of pedaling envelops Wilhelm Kempff’s arrangement of Nun freut euch while a Schubertian sense of line and rubato dominates Busoni’s arrangement of Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ.

Dinnerstein plays up the asymmetries and off-kilter elements of the concertos, especially the opening of the D-minor Concerto with its quirky offbeats. The F-minor Concerto, meanwhile, has a kind of romantic grandeur. The English Suite No. 3 in G minor is leaner and more straightforward, though the dynamics -- whispered pianissimos and ferocious fortes -- remind us that this is a Dinnerstein performance.

“A Strange Beauty” takes its title from the 17th-century philosopher Francis Bacon, who observed, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” The daughter of a painter, Dinnerstein is also drawn to visual analogies and the album includes several paintings that inspire her, reproduced below.

Bach: A Strange Beauty
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Kammerorchester Staatskapelle Berlin
Sony Classical
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Simon Dinnerstein: The Fulbright Triptych, 1971-74 , oil on wood panels
Simon Dinnerstein: The Fulbright Triptych, 1971-74 , oil on wood panels

Simone Dinnerstein writes: "'Strangeness in some proportion' is what I like in all of the arts. My father is an artist and I grew up discussing this with him as it applies to the fine arts."

Simon Dinnerstein: Alexander Studio, 1979, oil on wood panel
Simon Dinnerstein: Alexander Studio, 1979, oil on wood panel
Simon Dinnerstein's Purple Pride
Simon Dinnerstein's Purple Pride
Hans Holbein the Younger's Portrait of the Merchant Georg Gisze
Hans Holbein the Younger's Portrait of the Merchant Georg Gisze
Van Eyck's The Arnolfini Wedding, 1434, oil on wood panel
Van Eyck's The Arnolfini Wedding, 1434, oil on wood panel

Simone Dinnerstein writes: "That’s one of my favourite paintings. One of the things I find interesting about Van Eyck is that his paintings are incredibly expressive, and yet if you look at the man and woman in this painting their faces have no expression on them at all. There’s something very static about the painting because they are just standing there, but at the same time they are clearly caught in the act of motion because of the way the man is holding her hand. The dog is looking out at you and you see Van Eyck in the mirror painting the scene."

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