Jonathan Biss

Schumann: Fantasie; Kreisleriana; Arabeske

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Maybe not the greatest performance of Schumann's Fantasie in C major ever recorded -- there is the star-spanning Richter -- and maybe not the greatest performance of Schumann's Kreisleriana ever recorded -- there is the epoch-making Horowitz -- these performances recorded by young American virtuoso Jonathan Biss are still truly, deeply, profoundly great. His technique is entirely up to the music's imperious demands -- the dazzling coda to the Fantasie's central march and the dizzying tempo of the Kreisleriana's penultimate movement are dispatched with aplomb -- but his interpretations are even better. Biss aims, in a word, for greatness. His playing is passionate, almost reckless; his phrasing is lyrical, almost vocal; his dynamics are extreme, almost exaggerated. Yet it works. Yes, Biss does push too hard sometimes -- the Kreisleriana's opening movement is perhaps too fast -- and yes, Biss does pull back too far other times -- the Fantasie's finale's opening pages are perhaps too slow -- but these choices seem driven more by a desire to get further into the music than to showoff, and the results are, to the sympathetic listener, wholly compelling. Biss' quasi-encore of Schumann's slender Arabesque is tenderly affecting and entirely beguiling. Caught in EMI's warmly intimate if slightly too sonorous sound, these performances may not be the greatest ever recorded -- but they are still undeniably great.

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