By Kristin Shafel Omiccioli, KCMetropolis.org
Jonathan Biss began his thoughtfully planned program with Schumann’s final work for piano, Gesänge der Frühe, Op. 133. Throughout the work’s five brief movements, Biss’s treatment was sensitive and deliberate. He contended with complicated inner-voicing well, bringing out those lines with deft hand crossings and supple fingerings. From the warm, reflective first movement, through the energetic driving rhythm in the third, to the hymn-like, chordal final movement, his fluidity, unhurried timing, and purposeful phrasing fittingly conveyed Schumann’s vision of dawn breaking over a calm morning.
Biss’s expressive playing continued on the first half of the recital with sonatas by Berg and Beethoven. Austere temperament changes and piquant dissonances in Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op. 1 were on full display in Biss’s
lively flourishes, tightly controlled rubato, and wide-ranging dynamics. Biss reveled in Berg’s intense moments of tenderness and vigor, playing up the mood of turmoil and mysteriousness in the piece.
His animated performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata, Op. 57 brought the audience to its feet. Another work of balanced intensity, Biss kept up the energy throughout this sonata, fervently exploiting the entire keyboard and showing great physicality. Sudden mood and dynamic shifts were skillfully executed, clearly
conveying the turbulent, stormy emotions of the work, especially at its maniacal conclusion.
Last on the program was a return to Schumann, this time to an earlier piece: his Fantasie in C major, Op. 17. Biss threw himself into this work, notably in the majestic, passionate second movement. The Fantasie exudes
optimism and courage through its rich, colorful harmonies, lyrical melodic material, and active, rolling arpeggios. You can feel Schumann’s declaration of love for his dear Clara and his inspiration from Beethoven’s musical aesthetic throughout, and Biss’s performance here was unstuffy and demonstrative.
Although a very few off-color pitches found their way into the performance, Biss’s impressive, conscientious technique and emotive playing overwhelmed any tiny errors, resulting in a fine evening of emotionally evocative music. Biss closed the recital with an encore of the light, delicate second movement from Mozart’s Sonata in C Major, K. 330.
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