There's no getting around this when assessing the work of New Yorker Simone (ci-Moan-uh) Dinnerstein: she divides critical and public opinion as much as any artist practicing today. Any concert of hers is more personal utterance than musical examination of the subjects at hand. With more classical music being recorded and released today than ever before, Dinnerstein has brought classical music to a new generation of listeners who see her work as a beacon through the increasing fog of classical music recordings. Now she brings to her fans two of Johann Sebastian Bach's most revered keyboard works and beloved miniatures from Franz Schubert.
Dinnerstein has many times demonstrated affinity for Bach, whose keyboard Partitas occupy territory similar to the piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven. Comprised of a sequence of French dances, Bach's set (there are six of them that demonstrate varying degrees of emotional and intellectual qualities) are almost never played today in Baroque style. Players like Dinnerstein, who use modern pianos with large sustaining characteristics, ornament freely and use rubato to extreme as she has done in the lovely Sarabande of the Partita No. 1. Dinnerstein is marginally less personal and more mainstream in Franz Schubert's earlier set of impromptus; witness her shimmering brilliance of Schubert's fourth impromptu from the D. 899 set that sounds like many other pianists that have recorded this or both sets of Schubert's Impromptus.
While I was taken by her personalized style in her debut album, I am less enthused and convinced about her way in the two mighty Bach partitas included here. The Partita 2, in particular, is open to many forms of interpretation -- from Argerich's fire to Perahia's intellectualized legato to Gould's staccato and Tureck's humanity, the latter being my favorite of those I know. In a very crowded field, it's difficult to place Dinnerstein other than to say she seems more focused on deliberation for emotional reasons rather than to elucidate lines of counterpoint and more foucsed on the parts than the whole.
It is similar in the Partita 1 where, after her dance-like rhythm in the Corrente, she reverts to her slower, more personalized manner that seems to eschew any partiuclar school of playing. I'm pleased she takes repeats differently each time but, again, see her work in this music as more parts than a whole. Compare her Partita 1 to Maria Jo„o Pires or Dubravka Tomsic, just to name two practitioners, to get an idea of the way Dinnerstein plays with the puzzle parts without putting it together to see the big picture. The other women play the music more aggressively, as well, and both put the score together, in my mind, better than Simone. I think Dinnerstein is better in the Schubert miniatures even though, like a lot of pianists that concentrate more on expression than technique, she doesn't exploit the possibility of contrast in these beauties.
Overall, Dinnerstein does not sway me, in part because I prefer pianism with greater technique than she exhibits. With that caveat, I'd say anyone looking for a new recording of either the Bach Partitas or the Schubert Impromptus will probably be more satisfied with current favorites than this one unless you seek a dreamy, sometimes hypnotic performance that de-emphasizes Bach's duelling hands counterpoint. This recording's great values are its low price, general availability, and contents that match Bach's Baroque genius to Schubert's early stream of Romantic consciousness. For fans of Simone Dinnerstein, I think this is a marvelous concert that may sway more classical music newcomers to examine it more fully.