Beethoven: Piano sonatas: No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique); No. 15 in D, Op. 28 (Pastoral); No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90; No. 30 in E, Op. 109

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Jonathan Biss
WORKS: Piano sonatas: No. 8 in C minor,
Op. 13 (Pathétique); No. 15 in D,
Op. 28 (Pastoral); No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90; No. 30 in E, Op. 109

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PERFORMER: Jonathan Biss (piano)

CATALOGUE NO: 394 4222
There is nothing showy about Jonathan Biss’s piano-playing; everything feels completely natural, innately musical, tightly controlled and deeply felt. Having already recorded Beethoven’s Appassionata (with Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze), Biss now explores four sonatas from the <Pathétique to the visionary E major, Op. 109. These are intelligent performances, even if they don’t quite have the spark of musical identity that Biss brings to Schumann.

Biss’s reading of the Pathétique brims with energy, and is fleeter than the expansive recording by Paul Lewis. But he plays down the dramatic contrasts that are so much a part of the music’s essence, and he is notably less vivid and intense than Kovacevich. Others bring a more generous lyrical impulse to the slow movement, too, and overall Biss treads a path dangerously close to austerity. The same isn’t true of the Pastoral, which is gorgeously shaped and articulated. Biss is engaging, too, in the two-movement E minor Sonata, Op. 90, even if he doesn’t match the poise of Paul Lewis.

The stand-out performance here is Op. 109, where Biss is never less than compelling and at times profound. The way he dissolves the sonority of the Andante’s final variation before coalescing for the theme’s final return is a magical moment of great emotional force. In such an amply served work, Biss holds his own among such luminaries as Arrau, Brendel, Goode, Solomon and (perhaps best of all although currently unavailable) Myra Hess. The sound is a touch close, but otherwise excellent.

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Tim Parry