J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations BWV 988 CD
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"This recording contains some of the most beautiful, sensitive, intelligent and manifestly sincere playing you're ever likely to hear." - Piano magazine review (Sept/Oct)
Brooklyn-born pianist Simone Dinnerstein decided to learn Bach's Goldberg Variations as a project during her maternity. It led to her career taking off in a way she could never have expected. She performed the complete Goldberg Variations at her self-produced and critically acclaimed New York debut at Carnegie Hall in November 2005 which led to the release of this recording - her Telarc debut which she had recorded in March 2005 with GRAMMY Award winning producer Adam Abeshouse. As a result of the performance she gained an international manager, signed an exclusive record contract with Telarc, and is now touring internationally.
(4 stars) Her whippet-fingered technical prowess and vital note-striking underpin seamless, expressive cascading through devilish Variations 12, 20 and 26.
-- The Times, (Sarah Urwin Jones), October 6, 2007
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Dinnerstein's interpretation is at the same time technically flawless and - what is more - emotionally all-encompassing to a degree I can scarcely remember having encountered before in more than 25 years as an aficionado of classical music. It will be a cold and snowy day in Hell before I give up my disc of Gould's 1982 recording, but while that interpretation sets a standard of its own I always felt a slightly more romantic aproach to this timeless piece still might do wonders; and how happy I am to at last find the pianist to provide the perfect balanced example. In many reviews Dinnerstein's playing is primarily compared to Perahia, whom - as a Mozart performer par excelence - I percieve as more of a classicist (i.e. light-footed, elegant). To my ear there is a clearer line to Dinnerstein's late great compatriot Rosalyn Tureck (1913-2003), who in her best live performances achieved an unequalled meditative quality in the slower variations. Like Tureck Dinnerstein also prefers to play all of the repetitions, and while this practice makes the variations a very long piece indeed, it will work wonders when you succeed in somehow turning every repeat into an elaboration, as is the case with this recording. Though the Aria da Capo is technically supposed to be played more or less exactly like the opening Aria, this way of doing things always leaves me unsatisfied (shame on you András Schiff!). Something should have - must have - happened after all the bloody battles of these 80 tumultuous minutes of music. Gould provides a very beautiful answer to this problem, but his transfigured, weary-of-life Aria da Capo allows for no interpretation but that this is unquestionably the end (maybe of all things), whereas Dinnerstein miraculously manages to make her solemn conclusion sound like a possible new beginning. To think that this cataclysmic work is still believed by some to have been composed as a lullaby for an insomniac count! Fiddlesticks, Mr. Johann Nikolaus Forkel, as Montgomery Burns would have said - and do stop rotating in your heaven J. S. Bach.
I could drone on praising the merits of this outstanding recording, but fortunately others have already said most of what so richly deserves to be said. While I may not want to take my argument to the extreme of claiming this the only recording of this - the ultimate keyboard work of all times - you will ever need to hear, it certainly ticks more boxes on the score card than almost any other recording it has been my pleasure/duty to peruse. The levels of introspection and athmospheric tension just simply defy belief! Put this CD in your player and take in the 5 minutes 40 seconds of the first Aria; if you are not hooked by then you have the least corruptible personality in existence. Run for Pope!
I was fortunate enough to hear Simone Dinnerstein at the Wigmore, on her UK debut, play the variations; and, therefore, in a way, the CD could be said to be something of a disappointment: failing to catch the breadth of her performance (and the amount of time it took: all repeats intact; and much thought before she touched the keys; not to mention occasional pauses to catch her breath between individual variations...); and the sheer (almost religious) involvement and astonishment of the educated audience....
But -- having said all that -- this is a great reminder of an original interpretation; and one which shrugs off any history as if to say: "Oh look, a new book of piano music: I wonder what it will sound like when I play it?" In fact, live: this approach seemed to be present throughout -- repeats not simply being repeated, but _reinterpreted_, based on what had been 'learned' the first time through. Each variation is fresh; a new discovery; a step on the road to something bigger.... (And the pianistic technique is also varied throughout....)
This is, after all, surely (arguably), Bach's masterpiece: summing up all that _he_ had learned through composition and performance; and yet, simultaneously, managing to hide the awesome technical perfection behind music that -- Dinnerstein reminds us -- can still sound new, fresh, modern even, and relevant, today.
Her Goldberg variations are beautifully done and exceptionally thoughtful, there is no question about that. She plays with authority and technique second to none. Eschewing the staccato affect of Glenn Gould, her style is far more akin to Murray Perhaih and others that seek more transluscent legato.
This is not to say she cannot pound the keyboard or turn a phrase with the best of them -- listen to Variation 16 for that. Compared to the last recording of the Goldbergs I heard, by Perhaia, hers is warmer, more humane and perhaps less driven. But she is not afraid to change course in mid-stream -- listen to her abrupt tempo change in Variation 19 and the hop to return to rapidity in Variation 20.
Certainly this is outstanding pianism captured in an elegant sound field and presented for the listener is a 5 X 5 X 5 setting that is up to current DDD standards. I'd like to hear more of the train of thought or stream of consciousness cerebral approach I've heard in Bach from Richter and Elena Kuschnerova but I wouldn't suggest this is a bad performance lacking those qualities. For me, it's not the pinnacle; still, it's a beautifully retouched scan of Bach's masterpiece delivered on a 1903 instrument that sounds like it was made yesterday.
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