BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – Jonathan Biss plays Haydn & Schumann

Sonata in A-flat, Hob.46
Davidsbündlertänze, Op.6

Jonathan Biss (piano)

Reviewed by: Barnaby Page

Reviewed: 12 November, 2018
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Jonathan BissPhotograph: Benjamin EalovegaThis recital brought not only the anticipated pleasures but some unexpected ones too. If the bottomless complexity of the Schumann (and Jonathan Biss’s particularly strong association with this composer) meant that the Haydn risked being something of an amuse-bouche, any worries on that count were unfounded. Biss’s account of the Sonata was highly satisfactory, clear and shining with a restrained lyricism, aided by spot-on timing and emphases especially in the slow movement.

Likewise, even Biss’s fluid encore (Schumann’s Opus 18 Arabeske) barely suffered from being a slighter work than the extraordinary Davidsbündlertänze. Biss has become something of a Schumann specialist. He describes the composer’s piano music as “deeply poetic, fragile, obsessive, evocative, whimsical, internal”, and all those adjectives could apply to this Wigmore Hall performance.

Particularly impressive, and speaking to the depth of Biss’s understanding of the music, was the way that he avoided stereotyping the movements assigned by Schumann to his alter egos, Eusebius and Florestan; it must be tempting to make the Davidsbündlertänze all about the contrast between the reflective former and the more boisterous latter, but from Biss there was at least as much variety within the individual movements. With careful attention to small details complementing Biss’s attention to the big picture, with expressiveness never straying into indulgence, and – not least – thanks to the pianist’s willingness to sometimes just have fun with the music, this was a Davidsbündlertänze to delight.

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