Fantasie in C, Op.17
Jonathan Biss (piano)
Recorded 22-25 April 2006 in Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2007
CD No: EMI 3 65391 2
Duration: 70 minutes
Jonathan Biss has impressed with his seriousness of purpose and his analytical prowess; and does so again. Whether it is too much for Schumann’s music is a matter for each listener to decide. One can only admire Biss’s musical address, his concern for architecture and his well-sifted dynamics. Some will want greater passion and colour, expression that is more aflame, and ink-still-wet spontaneity.
Yet there is great satisfaction in hearing the Fantasy exposed with such a keen ear for the music’s counterpoint and structural ebb and flow, such undulations making a convincing whole. If the centrally placed ‘scherzo’ appears a little cautious at times, if superbly articulate, then Biss times the increase of tempo to round off the movement with a real sense of homecoming; and the slow finale is ideally paced (not indulged) in its shapely flow and sensitive fingers.
What Biss achieves, convincingly, is remind that Schumann wasn’t just about writing a torrent of fantastical pieces; rather this composer really underpinned his work with a foundation.
Similarly, Kreisleriana is a model of clarity and contrasts, but those latter oppositions are not dissected into sound-bites, for Biss has the long-term growth of the piece, even over its eight sections, keenly in view. Yes, there could be more fire, but there is a rapt quality to the quieter numbers that takes us to the heart of Schumann’s music. Arabeske is brought off without affectation; it’s so easy to pull this music around – Biss plays it straight and invests strength as well as caprice.
It’s tempting to liken Biss to Rudolf Serkin, Alfred Brendel and Clifford Curzon; he has something of each and, on his own terms, is first and foremost a musician whose head, heart and technique serves the composer.
Beautifully recorded – both immediate and airy – Biss’s Schumann is a model of perception (he writes a fine booklet note, too) and fine detailing; these are versions that it will be a pleasure to return to across the years. Biss offers this disc “to those who secretly listen”. It’s a lovely sentiment, and I’m happy to join the club.