Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 4 in Eb,
No. 14 in c#,
Op. 27/2, “Moonlight”;
No. 24 in F#,
Fantasy in g,
Jonathan Biss (pn)
ONYX 4094 (70:43)
It was surprising to me to be reminded that the early Sonata in Eb, beautifully recorded here by Jonathan Biss, is second in length only to
among Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Clearly the young Beethoven meant to make an impact with a sonata longer than most symphonies of the time. This is Jonathan Biss’s second disc in what he plans as a complete Beethoven sonata cycle. He only records pieces he has played in concert, so, by his reckoning, the whole cycle will take almost a decade.
According to Biss, the first movement of the Sonata in Eb found here is, with its “pulsating bass,” about certainty, while the second movement, with its series of short, phrases, is about unanswered questions. Certainly that is the way Biss plays these movements, the first with almost rigid excitement and the second patiently, each phrase distinct and, in its gradual unfolding, gentle and often placid. The famous opening movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata, which everyone calls mis-nicknamed, is faster here than usual, however, and even less tense. Biss gets a beautiful tone throughout, but I find recordings from as varied pianists as Rubinstein and Pollini (plus the inevitable Schnabel) more moving. Biss seems totally in his element in the eccentric Fantasy in G Minor, where his beautifully evocative playing of the softer pages is offset by Beethoven’s splashes of color and what Biss calls his looniness.
There is much to recommend on this disc, including the beautifully warm recorded sound, and the intelligence of Biss’s renditions. I hear nothing eccentric here, just a patient, carefully thought out exposition of Beethoven’s various ideas. Other pianists play with more fire, perhaps, or evoke more tension, but I will be coming back to Biss’s Beethoven.
FANFARE: Michael Ullman
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