The American pianist Jonathan Biss is putting his passion for Beethoven to intriguing uses: following his intellectually-provocative eBook Beethoven’s Shadow he’s launched an online course on Beethoven’s sonatas which has reached 100,000 people, and he’s commissioned concertos from five composers to act as counter-weights to Beethoven’s five.
But his Wigmore recital was devoted to Mozart, Schumann, and Schoenberg: not an obvious combination, but one which allowed their very different styles to set each other off brilliantly. And the tigerish attack with which he brought Mozart’s C minor sonata K457 out of 18th century decorum and into our 21st century sound-world had compelling authority. This work is as heroic as Mozart’s piano music gets, and its contrasts in tone and dynamics had orchestral resonance; what Biss did with the later Sonata in F K533 – with its exuberantly lyrical first movement, and its operatic Andante – was very different, but no less riveting.
Sandwiched between these works was Schoenberg’s 6 Little Piano Pieces Opus 19. ‘Away with harmony! Away with pathos!’ shouted that composer, extolling his own dry concision: Biss’s achievement was to make these rebarbative miniatures seem very big indeed. He expertly steered his final work – Schumann’s Kreisleriana – between its polarities of breathless excitement and contemplative calm.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies