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Jonathan Biss Triumphs with The Cleveland Orchestra

12.01.07
Jonathan Biss

"No soloist in his or her right mind aims to draw attention from the reason they're onstage: the music. But performances that are more striking for what we see than what we hear aren't uncommon.
Among the many notable aspects of Jonathan Biss' splendid debut with the Cleveland Orchestra on Thursday at Severance Hall was his total immersion in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. He played as if inspired by the rich unfolding of poetic and exhilarating material. Every phrase was sculpted with shape, direction and balance as primary considerations.
Biss, 27, has nurtured a career based purely on musicianship, not showmanship. He does nothing outlandish in technical terms, and surely not in a piece as magisterially refined as the fourth Beethoven concerto, and claims the facility and control to allow the music to speak in the most direct and regal terms.
Biss molded the opening solo phrase with utmost simplicity, whetting the sonic appetite for the transformations to come. His playing was supple, poised and glistening in sonority. In the slow movement, he answered the orchestra's stern statements with fluent, austere responses that had touches of yearning.
The finale brought out an impish quality in Biss, as well as a fleetness of touch and strength in the cadenza that grasped the ears. The clarity and sensitivity of his Beethoven were matched by the orchestra's sterling classicism as employed to vibrant effect by guest conductor James Conlon.
The "Leonore" Overture No. 3, on the other hand, was warm and bold, with brilliant trumpet, flute and bassoon solos and whirling strings to catapult the music to its inexorable, thrilling conclusion." -Cleveland Plain Dealer

 "I never get tired of watching how the soloists at a Cleveland Orchestra concert react to their surroundings. The singers are always the most extroverted, dressed to kill and eager to connect with the public. Pianists, on the other hand, can be a shy bunch.
The soloists making their debuts with the orchestra are the most touching. Thursday night, 27-year-old Jonathan Biss looked truly overwhelmed by the experience of playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. Accepting the warm applause that came his way, he held his hand to his heart and spoke to both guest conductor James Conlon and concertmaster William Preucil, gesturing his thanks to them.
Biss had good reason to be worked up. It was a tremendously successful debut in a steadily building career. Six years ago, he made his New York Philharmonic debut. His schedule is packed with solo, chamber music and orchestral engagements around the world. Despite an era of shrinking opportunities to record, Biss signed a contract with the EMI label, which produced his wonderful solo Beethoven release this year.
Beethoven suits this pianist. He made his performance of the Fourth Concerto heroic, carving out lines definitively in the first movement. At the same time, he captured the poetry. Biss gave imaginative expression to the writing of the slow movement, bringing it to a level of fantasy. Fabulously light, quick passagework in the Rondo was beautifully coordinated with the orchestra, as carefully managed by Conlon.
Biss's technique matches his musicality, which is to say both are bountiful. This young musician has a bright future." -Beacon Journal (Akron)