MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Brooklyn-born pianist Simone Dinnerstein's new CD is called "Bach: A Strange Beauty." The title comes from something the essayist Francis Bacon wrote: There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.

And that describes Dinnerstein's view of Bach's music, music that is full of beautiful strangeness, not just precise, orderly and mathematical.

Ms. SIMONE DINNERSTEIN (Pianist): In my view, that's a misconception about his music. I think that his music is about symmetry and has a lot of mathematics in it and lots of patterns, but what makes it so beautiful, so human, is that he deviates from those patterns.

And it's when he takes a different route harmonically, or he changes which voice is dominant, that the music gets slightly misshapen, and that makes it have just a depth that it does.

SIEGEL: I'd like to play the first track on "A Strange Beauty," which is Bach's - my German is terrible, but it's "Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ," "I Call to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ." And I'd like you to tell me what's going on.

(Soundbite of song, "Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ")

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: I mean, to start with, this is a piece that began in a cantata.

(Soundbite of song, "Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ")

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: Bach wrote an improvisation on it from the cantata for organ, and then Busoni, the pianist from the early 20th century, decided to transcribe it for piano. And when I played this piece, I was thinking very much about the sound of an organ in a cathedral.

(Soundbite of song, "Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ")

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: The voicing is changing all the time. Sometimes you hear the melody as being the dominant part, but then an inner voice within a chord takes precedence, or then a bass note takes precedence, and it's always shifting.

(Soundbite of song, "Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ")

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: Like there, you just heard a note in the left hand, in the bass, that created a dissonance, which was really important.

(Soundbite of song, "Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ")

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: And then here we're taking a route to another harmony that is so unusual. I mean, it shifts to a different region here.

(Soundbite of humming)

SIEGEL: It's beautiful and, as you describe it, a very intricate piece of music.

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: It is. On the one hand, you look at the music, and you think it's very, very simple, but playing it is very complicated.

(Soundbite of song, "Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ")

SIEGEL: So we're hearing Bach, we're hearing Busoni, the 20th-century take on this Baroque composition, and then we're hearing Dinnerstein here in the 21st century. That's you.

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: Yeah.

SIEGEL: I've heard you say that you have a sound that you think of as you play the piano. What is that sound?

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: I like a sound that doesn't have attack in it, that is not about the hammers hitting the strings or the force of my arms and my fingers hitting the keys. And even when I'm making a big sound, I want it to expand, to fill the space.

SIEGEL: The net result of all of this, for me at least, in listening to "A Strange Beauty," is hearing a Bach that is more expressive, at moments, sounds like Bach verging on Chopin, a very different way of playing Bach that I'm accustomed to hearing.

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: I guess we tend to categorize composers into periods of time and style, but I wouldn't say that I think of Bach's music as being romantic, but it's very expressive, and it's very soulful.

(Soundbite of song, "D-Minor Concerto for Keyboard and Strings")

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: This is the first movement of the "D-Minor Concerto for Keyboard and Strings." I've always felt about this piece that it can sound like it's on like a click track.

SIEGEL: On a click track?

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: Yeah, like there's a beat that is a constant beat that's always going, you know, like when you record for movies, they put on a click track that keeps the beat. And I don't feel that music at all like this. Especially this movement, I think does not stay at one tempo.

(Soundbite of song, "D-Minor Concerto for Keyboard and Strings")

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: And this is something that orchestras are just really not used to thinking about Bach like this, and I felt that we really successfully captured the thing I had in my head. It's very much a dialogue between the keyboard and the orchestra, and that, too, I felt, came through in the recording.

SIEGEL: A lot of the ways in which you speak about Bach and his keyboard music sounds like you could be talking about a jazz composer or a jazz pianist. There's a hint here of the jazz vocabulary.

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: Yeah, I think I've actually been very influenced by jazz musicians. And I think that the classical music world could use a little bit more of that way of thinking about things.

And as a classical musician, I was brought up to have the utmost respect for tradition and for being really observant. And I think though those things are important, I think getting away from that is important, too.

SIEGEL: So if somebody says, but is this what Bach had in mind when he wrote this music, I guess your first question is, well, maybe the notation doesn't tell us exactly what he had in mind when he was playing it, but you're also open to expanding a bit on what he had in mind.

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: You know, the thing is that the older that I've gotten, I've been thinking that it's less important what Bach had in mind or what any composer had in mind because I'm living in a completely different time than Bach.

And I'm not playing the music because I wanted to faithfully re-create what Bach thought. I'm playing the music because there are elements in that music that speak to me now in the present day, having heard all of the other music that I've heard.

SIEGEL: Yeah, you're here now. You're living in your own times.

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: I am, and I think the fact that I've heard pop music and jazz and rock and folk and also romantic interpretations of Baroque music means that I have a wealth of ideas and sounds that just simply didn't exist in Bach's time.

SIEGEL: Simone Dinnerstein, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. DINNERSTEIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Simone Dinnerstein's new album is called "Bach: A Strange Beauty."

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Simone Dinnerstein's new CD is called "Bach: A Strange Beauty." You can hear it in its entirety on our website, nprmusic.org. This is NPR News.

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