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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas No 8, 15, 27 & 30 / Jonathan Biss


Release Date: 10/02/2007 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 94422   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jonathan Biss
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

CD not available: This title is currently only available as an MP3 download.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas: No. 8 in c, “Pathétique”; No. 15 in D, “Pastoral”; No. 27 in e; No. 30 in E Jonathan Biss (pn) EMI 94422 (73:16)


Jonathan Biss joins Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne as one of the Great British hopefuls of the piano world. His Schumann disc on EMI was praised to the skies in some quarters, and indeed included some fine playing. Here, he treads even holier Read more waters, and comes into direct competition with Paul Lewis (who is recording a complete Beethoven cycle on Harmonia Mundi). He bravely includes the late op. 109 Sonata, often thought of as the territory of older pianists. That he emerges with head held high is a testament to his musical qualities.


He begins, though, with the famous No. 8, a work shot through with drama. The recording (Lyndhurst Hall, London) is everything we have come to expect from an EMI piano recording: well balanced, rich but without blurring in the bass and with body in the treble. No pianist could ask for more. Biss’s approach to the famous “Pathétique” indeed bears the stamp of youth. Contrasts are highlighted and the first movement’s Allegro di molto e con brio is very fast (although without becoming breathless). This speed has the advantage of setting the return of the slow introduction into high relief. Beethoven’s mold-breaking formal practices can be appreciated in all their glory, therefore. In contrast, the Adagio cantabile is a smooth flow of melody, well projected and yet intimate. The finale is refreshing—nice to have some fresh, youthful thought on matters—in that it vividly brings Papa Haydn to mind.


The “Pastoral” receives a performance that breathes serenity. The fragmentary effects towards the end of the first movement are notable for the effect of sense of striving rather than any modernity, while Biss’s light but full-toned staccato in the Andante is most beguiling. If the pipes of the finale could benefit from even greater innocence, they still beguile.


The two-movements of No. 27 have caused many a pianist interpretative problems. Biss realizes that juxtapositional contrast lies at the heart of the first movement territory and acts accordingly. The second movement eases itself in beautifully. Schubert is the immediate reference that comes to mind here, for Biss plays with a serenity more associated with that composer than with Beethoven. To hear an astonishing communion with Beethoven from a pianistic master, try the recently issued Emil Gilels Melodiya performance from the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on October 20, 1980 (Melodiya 1132). Arguably, No. 27 is as nothing compared with the challenges of No. 30, especially the latter’s huge set of variations. Biss approaches it with the fullest confidence, a confidence that illuminates the opening measures and beyond. Keyboard runs breathe fantasy. If the Prestissimo is ever so slightly harsh of touch at higher dynamic levels, he finds himself in the expansive finale and does not disappoint. It is remarkable to hear a pianist so young who is so attuned to this Elysian world. The final statement of the theme perhaps could have been just that bit more rapt (in live performance I imagine Biss can actually achieve this).


There is no doubting Biss’s technical armory. He is able to focus purely on the music. He occasionally seems to use bass accents in the manner of the sudden bass accents found in Scarlatti (this happens, for example, in the finale of the “Pastoral”). Everywhere there is evidence of a pianist who has thought about this music for himself. Of course he has formidable competition coming in from every direction. Most readers will have their preferred interpreters (for me it is Pollini in the late sonatas, while Brendel, particularly in his latest Beethoven traversal, can bring remarkable insights). Suffice it to say that Biss stands perfectly well on his own two feet, and as for the Biss/Lewis rivalry, I say this honestly and not as a cop out—the only real way forward is to own both.


Incidentally, booklet notes are by the pianist himself. They are remarkably eloquent and a model of their kind. There is much to admire here, and much that augurs well for the future.


FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

1. Sonata for Piano no 8 in C minor, Op. 13 "Pathétique" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jonathan Biss (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797-1798; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, UK 
Length: 8 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Notes: Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, UK (04/22/2007 - 04/25/2007) 
2. Sonata for Piano no 15 in D major, Op. 28 "Pastoral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jonathan Biss (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, UK 
Length: 9 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Notes: Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, UK (04/22/2007 - 04/25/2007) 
3. Sonata for Piano no 27 in E minor, Op. 90 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jonathan Biss (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1814; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, UK 
Length: 5 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Notes: Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, UK (04/22/2007 - 04/25/2007) 
4. Sonata for Piano no 30 in E major, Op. 109 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jonathan Biss (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1820; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, UK 
Length: 4 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Notes: Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, UK (04/22/2007 - 04/25/2007) 

Sound Samples

Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 "Pathétique": I. Grave - Allegro di molto e con brio
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 "Pathétique": II. Adagio cantabile
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 "Pathétique": III. Rondo (Allegro)
Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major Op.28 "Pastorale": I. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major Op.28 "Pastorale": II. Andante
Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major Op.28 "Pastorale": III Scherzo (Allegro vivace) & Trio
Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major Op.28 "Pastorale": IV. Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo)
Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor Op. 90: I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck
Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor Op. 90: II. Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen
Piano Sonata No.30 in E major Op.109: I. Vivace - Adagio espressivo
Piano Sonata No.30 in E major Op.109: II. Prestissimo
Piano Sonata No.30 in E major Op.109: III. Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung (Adagio molto cantabile ed espressivo) - Variazioni 1-6
Bagatelle Op.126 No. 1 in G major - Andante con moto
Bagatelle Op.126 No. 3 in E flat - Andante

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