Biss - and bliss - in Kalamazoo

DistlerTue 4th May 2010

The Irving S Gilmore International Keyboard Festival

I just returned from the first weekend of the 2010 Irving S Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo, spending a quiet yet productive couple of days reconnecting with festival director Daniel Gustin, basking in the Radisson Hotel’s comfortable digs and hospitable staff, and attending as many concerts as I could.
For me, the real eye and ear opener of my all-too-brief trip was Jonathan Biss’s April 25 4pm recital at the Western Michgan University Campus’ Dalton Center Recital Hall. Although I had given mixed reviews to his EMI CD releases, I had never heard Biss play in person. Put simply, Biss’s recordings do not do him justice, and do not fully convey the wide dynamic range, gorgeously cultivated sonority, and concentrated musical intelligence I heard from the platform. Virtuosity always serves the music, not the other way around, as the thornier Beethoven Op 126 Bagatelles and finale of the same composer’s Les Adieux sonata revealed, along with the Mendelssohn Variations Sérieuses’ tightly unified tempo relationships.
Haydn’s A-flat Sonata No 46 stood out for the pianist’s astute harmonic awareness, pinpointed timing, and shapely left hand work, although rapid passage work was sometimes rushed. Biss projected Schoenberg’s Six Little Pieces Op 19 to their hyper-expressive maximum, yet never strayed from the composer’s painstakingly detailed dynamic and phrasing indications. His encore couldn’t have been more apt to the occasion: an operatically tinged rendition of the Mozart K 330 Sonata slow movement.
The music still played out in my ear the following day as my wife and I indulged in truly superb and much needed massage treatments at the Willow Spa, highly recommended for anyone sitting for hours on end listening to piano recitals!


Composer, pianist, concert presenter and Gramophone contributor Jed Distler looks back, present and forward about the piano in our lives, and the lives of the piano.

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