Beethoven
Fantasy in G minor, Op.77
Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)
Schumann
Davidsbündlertänze, Op.6
Jonathan Biss (piano)

Recorded in March and April 2003 at Potton Hall, Suffolk
CD No: EMI 5 85894 2
Duration: 66 minutes
Reviewed: April 2004
In his early ’twenties, American Jonathan Biss, a Leon Fleisher pupil, has impressed me on all the occasions I have heard him – in Beethoven’s Third and Ravel’s G major concertos, and in solo works of Beethoven and Leon Kirchner. His first CD, which I presume this is, is admirably placed within EMI’s Debut series, In his choice of repertoire for this release, Biss is up against stiff competition, a whole world of recorded pianists in fact. He has no need to fear comparisons.
The Beethoven Fantasy is a fine introduction – Biss is alive to the ’modernism’ of the piece (the opening pages are quite a shock!) and he vividly characterises the various episodes. This first track also demonstrates the warmth and clarity of the excellent recording.
Davidsbündlertänze is a given a thoughtfully considered, rather reflective account; it’s a touching, and where necessary, virile rendition, one full of insight, identity and individuality. Biss espouses the music’s fragrance and refinement with certainty, but he is not indulgent and sees the bigger picture; this is honed and balanced Schumann-playing embracing fantasy, emotion and structure.
Biss’s account of the Appassionata is maybe the acid test here – it’s a piece that has an immediate impact on the listener and is essayed by just about every pianist. Biss’s sure projection is charged in a most engaging way; it’s a linear rendition, the structure is sacrosanct, and he is equally alive to the work’s elusiveness and electrified progress; some of the fortissimos have a Pollini-like sinew.
What is most satisfying is that you know Biss has really examined and pondered the music before giving a ’real’ performance. Having worked-out the finale’s internal rationale (including observing Beethoven’s curious request for the development to be repeated) Biss sets the seal on a splendid performance by unleashing the coruscating final bars as something inevitable rather than being tacked-on and suggesting display for its own sake.

 

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