Jonathan Biss

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2

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The playing of American pianist Jonathan Biss is as studious as the photo on the cover of this Onyx-label release might suggest. Biss was a student of Leon Fleisher, but his playing in Classical and early Romantic repertory might also suggest Rudolf Serkin, whom he also somewhat physically resembles. He is probably a finer technician than either of those models, with an awesomely precise, crystalline sound. In a work like the Fantasy in G minor, Op. 77, Biss' careful reading, rarely rising above mezzo forte, is decidedly out of the mainstream, and the first movement of the Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27/2 ("Moonlight"), seems to lose part of its reason for being in Biss' minimally pedaled reading. But there are many very beautiful moments on the program. The Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7, which is almost nobody's pick as a favorite among the 31, seems to magically fall into its proper proportions in Biss' hands, with the slow movement, which Biss in his own notes aptly characterizes as Beethoven's first "surveys ... of the cosmos," an especially transcendent pleasure. The best is saved for last: the short but profound Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major, Op. 78, is a miracle of perfectly sculpted detail that practically demands to be heard again once it stops. There is an X factor in the recording's favor here: even if some of Biss' performances are not to your individual taste, you may find them so well done that they command attention. A major statement from a striking new talent.

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