LABELS: JB Recordings
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Nos 1, 6, 19 & 23
PERFORMER: Jonathan Biss (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: MM15029
Here’s another wonderful disc of Beethoven sonatas. We are living in an age where the finest performances, as here, are as impressive as anything we have from the past. No one who loves these works will ever want to be without Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Kempff, Claudio Arrau, Sviatoslav Richter, Yonty Solomon and many more; but Jonathan Biss, who is recording them at the rate of one disc per year – and has changed from Onyx to JB Recordings – will surely take his place among the greats if he continues on this exalted plane.
This disc could seem all the more remarkable for containing only one of the most celebrated of the sonatas, the Appassionata, which may also be the hardest to make a strong mark in, since it is so familiar, the essence of Beethoven’s middle-period aggressive style, the sonata counterpart to the Fifth Symphony. Biss plays it with all his accustomed intensity, the ferocious last page included.
But for me this disc is primarily desirable for the accounts of the first two works, including the very first of the sonatas, Op. 2 No. 1. This, as Biss points out in his notes, is the first piano sonata by anyone to have four movements, with a decidedly strange minuet. But its freshness and exuberance remain perpetually new throughout; and the same can be said even more emphatically about Op. 10 No. 2, which ends with a movement which constantly toys with being a fugue, but always resists, turning into a characteristically Beethovenian romp. Those who have not yet discovered Biss’s playing should not hesitate.