Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 15,
No. 16; No. 21,
Jonathan Biss (pn)
ONYX 4115 (70:23)
This is volume three in the new series of Beethoven piano music by this acclaimed young American pianist. Colleague Lynn René Bayley, echoing my own complaints about the incessant repetition of standard repertoire, does not consider this standout playing, but merely “a nice try.” I believe Biss does
play with distinction. Without the slightest degree of flash or self-aggrandizement, Biss goes to the structural and aesthetic core of these pieces, bringing an unusual degree of grace and elegance to his presentation. I am quite sure that his approach has more than a little to do with his pedagogical lineage; his main teacher was Leon Fleisher, who was himself a Schnabel student. I also must admit that my own opinion is undoubtedly affected by the fact that I have heard Biss in concert many times, and have a broader view of his artistry than someone who only knows his recorded work.
In these middle period sonatas, Biss seems to be exploring the evolution of Beethoven’s expressive manner, especially in the “Waldstein,” which seems to step away from Beethoven’s Classical roots and point towards a more Romantic approach. Other pianists (see my review of Jumppanen’s Beethoven above) may emphasize a kind of consistency in Beethoven’s sense of lyricism and structure, which is a perfectly valid way of playing this music, but Biss goes a bit deeper, with a certain sense of Germanic intellectualism. The spirit of Serkin is near to these performances.
I would certainly agree with Bayley that if you already have this music as played by Schnabel, Kempff, Arrau, etc., you don’t “need” this recording. But if you are just now building a Beethoven piano music collection, or are interested in new talent, you cannot go wrong with this. Young Jonathan Biss is one of the leading Beethoven interpreters of his generation.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
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