Schumann • Janácek

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COMPOSERS: Janacek,Schumann
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
ALBUM TITLE: Jonathan Biss: Schumann, Janácek
WORKS: Schumann: Fantasiestücke; Davidsbündlertänze; Gesänge der Frühe; Janácek: On an Overgrown Path, Book 1
PERFORMER: Jonathan Biss (piano)


It’s something of a coincidence that barely a month after Hyperion released Marc-André Hamelin’s outstanding disc of Schumann and Janáˇcek’s On an Overgrown Path (Recording of the Month, July 2014) Wigmore Hall Live has offered a similar conjunction of works by these  composers.

Jonathan Biss’s fine recital, recorded in May 2013, includes two of Schumann’s more expansive cycles, in contrast to the intimate Kinderszenen and Waldszenen in Hamelin’s programme. The most notable difference here, however, lies with Biss’s daring idea of interspersing selected pieces from the Janáˇcek within the framework of the Fantasiestücke. One obvious disadvantage is that we hear only five out of the ten pieces from Book One of On an Overgrown Path. On the other hand, the juxtaposition of two different styles works remarkably well, particularly as Biss’s selection ensures that the narrative structure of the Schumann is never disrupted by the presence of an interloper. The segue from Schumann’s ‘Warum?’ to Janáˇcek’s ‘Listek odvanut        ’ is particularly magical, sounding as if the two composers are in some kind of private communion with each other.

Of course, those wishing to hear the Schumann without such incursions might be frustrated by Biss’s programming. But those who reject this recital will miss out on some really sensitive playing that captures the ebb and flow of Schumann’s impulsive musical argument most convincingly.

Even more compelling is Biss’s account of Davidsbündlertänze which takes us on a roller-coaster journey of contrasting emotions, from humour and tenderness to passion and pure exhilaration.


Erik Levi