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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach


  • Two-Part Inventions, BWV 772-786
  • Three-Part Inventions, BWV 787-801
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Sony 88843009102
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These works are also known as the Two- and Three-part Inventions. BWV 772-801. They were written early in Bach's career, when he was at Cöthen. Along with The Well-Tempered Klavier, they were part of what Bach called the Klavierbüchlein ("the little keyboard book") intended as music for his children to learn to play well on the keyboard. Martin Geck writes about them – though not in detail – in his Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Works.

Simone Dinnerstein reports, in her notes to this CD, that the D minor Invention was the first keyboard piece by Bach that she can recall hearing, when she was nine years old. It was way beyond her ability to play at the time but "many months later" her teacher allowed her to try. Many years later now, her playing of all these pieces sounds effortless. Let me say right now that her playing of the final Sinfonia, #15 in B minor is arrestingly brilliant and worth the price of this disc all by itself.

The arrangement of the pieces is straightforward (unlike Gould's). Each set of fifteen pieces begins with C Major, continues in C minor and then goes to D Major and Minor and ends with B minor. Dinnerstein's performances of these works are far more conventional than her Bach interpretations on her recording A Strange Beauty where she "actually flaunts her disregard of standard practice," as I said in my review (Sony 81742). Her readings are still expressive, but not willfully so. Rather, they are clear and musical, with distinctly articulated lines and phrasing and with appropriately varied dynamics, tempos and attacks. The pieces in major keys tend to be lively and upbeat, though sometimes moderately paced, and the pieces in minor keys tend to be soft and slow. Invention #5, BWV 776, for instance, begins with vigorous attacks, and is faster and louder than the preceding Invention in D minor, which is softer. The penultimate Invention, in Bb Major, which sounds particularly familiar to me, is moderately paced, and the final Invention, in B minor sounds quite different, with a rhythm that seems almost to skip along.

Dinnerstein tends to pause between numbers and there is a longer pause before the Sinfonias. Again, the opening C Major is bright and brief (under a minute), as is the one in E Major; the following minor key pieces are slow and deliberate. The one in F Major which is moderately paced but crisp. I have already mentioned the final piece in the set, memorable at only a minute and twelve seconds.

Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2014, R. James Tobin