American pianist Jonathan Biss opened the Friends of Chamber Music's 2012-13 Master Pianists Series Friday at the Folly Theater with technical bravura, interesting program choices and a solid aesthetic sensibility that shows great potential for development.
Biss began with Robert Schumann's 1853 Gesänge der Frühe, a work in five disjointed sections that’s considered Schumann's last coherent piano work. Schumann's devoted wife Clara wrote that the "dawn-songs" were "very original as always but ... their tone is so very strange" — an altogether fair and accurate judgment. These five have great bones, but Schumann's increasingly troubled mind is in evidence throughout this hard to understand music. What's easy to understand are Schumann's warmth and courage, and both shone through in Biss's reading.
Schumann was a different man when he wrote the 1836 Fantasie for his beloved Clara — young, strong and deeply in love with her. Biss did ample justice to this big work, whose last movement is one of Schumann's most calm and collected solo piano writings. Alban Berg's Piano Sonata is like all of Berg's best works. Even 100 years after it was written, it still manages to be in your face and on another planet at the same time.
Berg wrote it in sonata form but all in one movement because, as he confessed to his teacher Arnold Schoenberg, he ran out of ideas for two more movements. Not that it mattered. It's a wonderful piece, Biss captured the Berg persona perfectly, and he had his best moments Friday night with Berg's work.
Beethoven's "Appassionata" piano sonata was the concert's best-known piece, and Biss turned in a very athletic performance of this extremely difficult work. It wasn’t exactly eloquent, but it was certainly impressive.
Jonathan Biss is only 32. His great potential, already being well realized, showed forth in Beethoven's groundbreaking work better than anywhere else Friday night.
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