Biss/Philharmonia/Hrusa, Royal Festival Hall, review: Jonathan Biss delivers the Largo with tender lyricism

03.21.16
Jonathan Biss
The Independent

The American pianist Jonathan Biss is the most consistently interesting Beethovenist of his thirtysomething generation; nobody else interrogates the score with such intensity, or infuses it with such electricity in performance. He’s carved out a parallel career as a tutor, creating a video course on Beethoven’s sonatas which has, so Wikipedia tells us, reached 100,000 students in 160 countries. One may not always agree with his interpretations, but they’re so vivid that one is compelled to engage with them, and so it was when he played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 1 in C Opus 15 with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Jakub Hrusa.

This Haydn-esque early concerto is the most intimate of the set, and Biss’s approach drew us in close, with unforced natural eloquence and a precision in the passage-work which was smart as a whip. Biss delivered the Largo with tender lyricism, and let the concluding Rondo playfully chase its tail: here the virtuosity of his rapidly-chopping hands seemed to infect the orchestra, all sharing in the sense of liberation.   

Read the rest of the review here