Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Music: J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations by Simone Dinnerstein

Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a popular collection for the classically-trained pianist to record. Originally scored for harpsichord, the keyboard of Bach’s day (accepting the organ), it was not until 1955 that a recording of the aria and variations written for the Russian Count Kaiserling’s house guest was made on piano in an historically incendiary performance by the late Glenn Gould, later reprised in a dramatically different fashion on his 1981 reconsideration of the piece shortly before the pianist’s death in 1982. Gould set the tone for Bach performance on the modern Hammerklavier. The Variations discography is immense, both on harpsichord and piano. This discussion will be restricted to the latter format as the central subject of this review is pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s performance of the Variations on Telarc Classical.

Goldberg performance range from the idiosyncratic Gould’s recordings to the conservative recordings of Rosalyn Turek’s 1999 Phillips set to the neo-conservative considerations of Andras Schiff’s 1990 Decca release and his excellent 2003 ECM offering. All embracing is Murray Perahia’s 2000 Sony release, perhaps the finest recording of the pieces on piano available. Neglected in these heady categories are the very personal performances best represented by Daniel Barenboim’s 2000 live performance at Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires. Add to the Argentinean’s heart-versus-head account, Simone Dinnerstein’s carefully considered and emotionally accounted Goldberg Variations.

Dinnerstein’s artistic story is a bit of Horatio Alger crossed with La Boehm. Immensely gifted but not entitled, Dinnerstein followed and developed her gifts with a list of prominent teachers that led her to a classical music market crowded with product with the goal of recognition a demanding if not improbable task. So how did this recording come about? Dinnerstein funded its recording herself as well as a performance of the piece at her New York debut in 2005. That fully cracked the ice ceiling along with her more recent recording of Beethoven Cello Sonatas 1-3 with Zuill Bailey on Delos Records. This winding road ultimately led to a contract with Telarc Classical and this recording. So, what gold is spun from straw in this recording? Dinnerstein chooses a slow and deliberate tempo for the opening aria, recalling, but indeed going beyond, Barenboim’s in Buenos Aires. She transitions beautifully into the first variation with command and confidence, a place where many lesser talent stumble.

Like Bach’s Cello Suites, artists tend to wait until later in life to record the Goldberg Variations because of their musical demand and historic exegesis. Dinnerstein shows great courage (read “guts”) in concentrating on this set of variations and makes it pay off for her.
Dinnerstein’s right hand has prominence, something comparable to Mendelssohn performing these variations shortly after his19th Century resurrection of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. This is as much of a comparison to the far past as one can draw. Dinnerstein’s faster tempo variations are brimming with vitality and personality and the slower variations are beautifully elaborated lace, delicate and exposed, pushing her overall performance beyond technique into the realm of emotive realization


Aria; Variation 1; Variation 2; Variation 3; Variation 4; Variation 5; Variation 6; Variation 7; Variation 8; Variation 9; Variation 10; Variation 11; Variation 12; Variation 13; Variation 14; Variation 15; Variation 16; Variation 17; Variation 18; Variation 19; Variation 20; Variation 21; Variation 22; Variation 23; Variation 24; Variation 25; Variation 26; Variation 27; Variation 28; Variation 29; Variation 30; Aria da capo.

Simone Dinnerstein: piano.

This review was first published in Blogcritics.org

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007