BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas Vol 5
As in Jonathan Biss’s first four Beethoven discs, Vol 5 offers a mix of works from various periods. It adds up to a well-contrasted programme that would work just as well in recital as it does for home listening. In Op 2 No 3’s opening movement, Biss revels in Beethoven’s Allegro con brio directive albeit without Pollini’s edgier demeanour and more pronounced fortes. The Adagio, however, gains in expressive complexity by virtue of Biss’s scrupulous attention to articulation, dynamics and rests. Similarly, Biss shapes the Scherzo’s detached phrases with the utmost specificity, never accenting or flattening out the main theme’s up beats. For all the finale’s impressive poise and polish, Biss doesn’t give in to the music’s drive and bravura in the manner of Paavali Jumppanen’s recording (Ondine, 5/14).
If Schnabel’s brand of ‘sophisticated simplicity’ eludes Biss (and most other pianists, to be fair) in Op 79, it’s still a fine and straightforward reading. However, the pianist truly puts an individual stamp on Op 90’s first movement with strategic tenutos, uncommonly emphasised inner voices plus a remarkably even execution of the rapid rotary passages. Also note how Biss breaks the curvaceously introspective spell he casts in the second movement by honouring the final measures’ accelerando and abrupt return to tempo, as if the music suddenly stops in mid-air. Indeed, Biss singles out this sonata for special praise in his insightful and provocative booklet-notes.
He strikes a persuasive balance between freedom and rigour in Op 101’s lyrical opening and gnarly fugal finale, although the pianist’s well-sprung dotted rhythms and careful voice-leading in the March don’t quite match the energetic exactitude and attention to the composer’s subito dynamics distinguishing Claudio Arrau’s analogue Philips recording. In short, this excellently engineered release continues to substantiate Jonathan Biss as a cultivated, stylish, serious-minded and subtly playful Beethoven interpreter with something to say.