Bach wrote these works to help keyboardists make the instrument “sing.” In Simone Dinnerstein’s hands, that goal is never in doubt. Her affinity for Bach was firmly established with her debut recording, a personal take on the Goldberg Variations that topped the classical sales charts in 2007 and catapulted the previously obscure Brooklyn pianist onto the national stage. Her subsequent recordings of Bach’s Partitas and Chorale Preludes affirmed her understanding of and technical proficiency in his grander keyboard works. But it is worth noting that Dinnerstein has long championed contemporary works, performing George Crumb’s deliciously nocturnal Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik (his variations on Thelonius Monk’s “Round Midnight”) and recording an album with the singer/songwriter Tift Merritt, among others. This seems to inform her approach to Bach: This music remains, if not continuously contemporary, at least stubbornly timeless. In these Inventions and Sinfonias — some of the old master’s shortest, most epigrammatic works — Dinnerstein manages to both acknowledge Baroque period practice and to maintain a clarity of line that we might expect from a performance of much newer music.
The trills and grace notes that dot her performances of Invention #2 in C Minor or #4 in D Minor, to take just two examples, sound both authentically Baroque and uncluttered. Her reading of Invention #8 in F is a headlong rush that never sounds foursquare, and suggests a musician who’s played some Philip Glass or Steve Reich somewhere along the way. Other highlights include a glowing Invention #9 in F Minor; the patter of notes like rain in the Sinfonia #1 in C; a playful Sinfonia #5 in E-flat; and an almost modernist Sinfonia #9 in F Minor. Taken as a whole, this set conveys the same probing, intimate mood as Dinnerstein’s remarkable Goldberg recording.