Simone Dinnerstein's Radical, Ruminative Bach

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Few pianists elicit such strong responses from our listeners as Simone Dinnerstein. When we featured her entrancing Bach CD from last year, "A Strange Beauty," opinions were divided into two camps: those who savored the stately, ruminative beauty in her Chorale Preludes and keyboard concertos and those who thought Bach was smothered by what they saw as Dinnerstein's plushy, overly Romantic embrace.

The Brooklyn-based pianist's latest Sony release, "Something Almost Being Said," should continue to draw strong opinions. As with her last album, it gets its title from a poem -- Englishman Philip Larkin’s 1967 poem "The Trees." Bach once again is the centerpiece, with renditions of the First and Second Partitas framing the collection. In between are Schubert's Four Impromptus, Op. 90, works that share with Bach a certain preoccupation with long, lyrical melodies.

Above all, this is highly personalized Bach playing. The slow Sarabande and Sinfonia in the Partita No. 2 in C minor have a searching quality, with each chromatic inflection lingered on for maximum effect. But even the fast movements, such as the Capriccio in No. 2 or the Gigue in No. 1 are slower and more introspective than many are used to hearing. The Schubert Impromptus sound as if they are cut from the same cloth, lovingly played, and full of fluidity and emotion.

If Dinnerstein's pronounced rubato or deliberate tempo choices may raise some eyebrows, consider that she has always been a performer who puts a personal stamp on her interpretations, going back to her 2007 breakthrough album of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Perhaps it's no surprise that Dinnerstein's current activities show her branching out in new directions: She has been touring with an arrangement of a song by pop singer Leonard Cohen, and this summer she will record an album with the country-rock singer-songwriter Tift Merritt. The two performed in The Greene Space at WQXR and WNYC; Watch the video here.

Something Almost Said
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Sony Classical
Available at


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Comments [4]

Michael Meltzer

What is important about Ms. Dinnerstein's playing is not how fast or slow, or how rubato, or when she uses the pedal, but the fact that when she plays, you can not sit there and think about anything else. You can either listen or leave the room, but the charisma of her tone and delivery rivet your attention. You can like it or not. That is what art is about, and that is how the piano should be played.

Feb. 09 2012 09:52 AM
Rosanna from NYC

Simone's recital at the Miller Theater on Feb. 2 was sold out, inspired, and exciting. So neat to have a native New Yorker putting her distinctive stamp on J.S. Bach! She doesn't see his work as Romantic; she appreciates its lyrical quality and strives to bring that out to her audience. Stay strong, Simone, and always remember that Bach is forever.

Feb. 09 2012 03:15 AM
Carol from New York City

I am quite a fan of Ms. Dinnerstein. I purchased her new CD last week (Something almost being said....)and couldn't be happier with it. The Schubert is perfect in my ear....tempi, rubato, expression......she strikes me as an extremely sensitive person, conveying that sensitivity to her performances. In reading the program notes about her from her February 2nd Miller Theatre performance, it verified my assumption of her sensitivity and musical conveyance. You go, girl! I hope you continue for many years and don't become hardened by the business end of music.

Feb. 08 2012 02:22 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

Describing Leonard Cohen as a "pop singer" seems strange. "Poet" would be more fitting. Would "Famous Blue Raincoat" be a rap song? Someone is showing orthodoxy, and it isn't Ms. Dinnerstein.

Incidentally, one of my favorite renderings of "Famous Blue.." is by Tori Amos, who originally wanted to be a classical pianist but chose a singing career instead when the pianist route didn't look promising enough.

Here's to "raising eyebrows" with rubato, tempi and playing the piano as if the bench had hot coals in it (Ms. Amos' style).

Feb. 08 2012 10:25 AM

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The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.