Schumann: Fantasie in C, Op. 17; Kreisleriana; Arabeske

ALBUM TITLE: Schumann piano works
WORKS: Fantasie in C, Op. 17; Kreisleriana; Arabeske
PERFORMER: Jonathan Biss (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 365 3912
Jonathan Biss is no ordinary 25-year-old. Indeed, he’s no ordinary pianist. This young American, whose studies with Leon Fleisher have helped to polish an exceptional talent, plays with a selfless maturity that is exceptional. Biss has all the technique required, yet he unfailingly puts the composer first. Such is the strength and conviction of his playing that the music unfolds with a naturalsounding inevitability; witness his impeccable shaping of Schumann’s expansive phrases in the C major Fantasie. He brings life and significance to Schumann’s inner voices, without detracting from the essential line. More Romantically inclined pianists might revel more in beautiful sound, or inflect melodic lines with a richer expressive elasticity, but the innate quality of Biss’s playing transcends such issues. The poised calm of the third movement is deeply moving, although others ma prefer Argerich’s more exploratory account, or the cathedral-like stature of Fiorentino’s recording. In Kreisleriana Biss is once again astonishingly assured. Others – notably Argerich and Horowitz (his 1969 reading) – bring more intensity to their characterisation, more variation to the piano’s sound. Biss’s patrician avoidance of idiosyncrasy risks a certain coolness, or a diluting of emotional intensity. But again his playing has a truthfulness that seems to preclude any need for such overt characterisation. The recording is decent, though there are some extraneous noises (a squeaky piano stool?). Warmly recommended. Tim Parry