Still another way to do Bach
"If one manages to be convincing, the interpretation sounds authentic: if one strives to be authentic, one will never be convincing."
Those words from the Dutch harpsichordist and organist Gustav Leonhardt, quoted by the late Lionel Salter in The Guardian's obituary for Leonhardt, might sound odd coming from an artist known for his scholarly and self-effacing way with Bach and other Baroque composers. But they draw us closer to an answer for one the most perplexing questions about classical music, one which American pianist Byron Janis has also perceptively commented on in recent writings (see reprints on his blog of his Wall Street Journal articles): How can the same music still sound right when played in wildly different ways? A Bach performance coming up Friday morning on WFCR, and which couldn't sound more different than Leonhardt's way with the same music, better illustrates his quote than do his own performances.
Since her self-produced 2005 recording of the "Goldberg Variations" became the talk of the classical world and a surprise best-seller, pianist Simone Dinnerstein has often been mentioned in the same breath as such past Bach specialists as Rosalyn Tureck and Glenn Gould. Well, other than the fact that it's played on the piano, Dinnerstein's Bach sounds nothing like the sober and scrupulous Tureck or the crisp, harpsichord-like Gould. To call it "Romantic" would be an understatement as well as, possibly, a slur at a time when the "R" word is never, ever to be mentioned in the context of the Baroque. If you tune in Friday morning for Dinnerstein's rendition of the Partita No. 1 in B-flat major, from her new "Something Almost Being Said" album, listen to the immense rubato (the push-pull rhythmic quality usually applied to Romantics like Chopin) of the opening Praeludium, the long, arching melodic phrases of the Allemande, the substantial tone she applies to the sprightly Corrente, the hushed and halting Sarabande, the restraint of the Menuets and the Debussyan water-color wash of the concluding Gigue. Does it sound like anyone else's Bach? No. Is it "authentic" in the way that word is usually applied to Baroque music? No. Is it convincing? Please -- you tell me.
P.S. Simone Dinnerstein plays this and other works by Bach and Schubert at Smith College on May 16.