Jonathan Biss offers bravura and poetry in piano recital at Shriver Hall
When Jonathan Biss made his Shriver Hall Concert Series debut in 2002, he sounded like a technically gifted pianist who needed to develop a little more subtlety and nuance.
The Jonathan Biss who returned to Shriver Hall Sunday evening revealed no shortage of variety in his touch and in his phrasing as he moved through a demanding program that he also performed Friday at Carnegie Hall.
The comparison with nine years ago was made all the clearer when the pianist turned to Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata. In '02, he tore into the score with plenty of digital fire power, but it all ended up sounding merely fast and loud.
This time, there was not just terrific drama and fire, but also finely shaded colors and wonderful rhythmic fluidity. The performance had the stamp of a keen musical intellect with a strongly communicative personality to match.
Biss opened the recital with the dark, rather haunting Sonata "1.X.1905" by Janacek. It's a kind of eulogy to a young man slain in Brno during a protest against the government's refusal to allow a local university to use the Czech language, rather than German. Biss, an ardent proponent of Janacek's music, delved beneath the notes to find considerable emotional weight.
Three Pieces for Piano by Bernard Rands, composed for the pianist, are
It wasn't always easy to concentrate on the music-making up in the balcony, where there were assorted distractions from concert-goers, but, like several other folks, I sought quieter ground for the second half, which was devoted to Schumann's richly layered Fantasy in C major.
One or two passages could have been cleaner, but the pianist's command of the keyboard and the music's noble sentiments was never in doubt. It was an engrossing account that seemed at once spontaneous and deeply considered. His phrasing of the poignant closing measures proved remarkably affecting.
No encore would have been necessary after such music, but Biss responded to the warm ovation with a perfect choice -- the slow movement from Mozart's C major Sonata, K. 545. The graceful, songful way he sculpted the phrases said a lot about the pianist and his considerable artistry.
PHOTO (by Jimmy Katz) COURTESY OF OPUS 3 ARTISTS