Caressed into Keys

12.01.08
Jonathan Biss
Hamburger Abendblatt

There are pianists who claim the piano is a percussion instrument. Their young American colleague Jonathan Biss (born in 1980) obviously doesn't share their point of view. At the NDR's Matinee on Sunday in the Laeiszhalle, he caressed Beethoven's second Piano Concerto into the keys to such an extent that one might think, the Steinway piano builders glued an extra layer of felt to the hammers of the concert piano before the performance.

Biss (German for bite) played without such - excuse the bad play on words - but this also has its pleasant sides. While a more brilliant radiance and more perky accents would have been possible here and there, the Leon-Fleisher-student concentrated precisely on an ever-velvety sound. This sound is created by a subtle articulation technique and also by frequent use of the pedals. The encore was custom tailored for Biss: "Der Dichter spricht" from Schumann's "Kinderszenen" was like sinking into euphony

The symphonic frame was Mozart's "Paris" Symphony and Alexander Zemlinsky's Orchestra Fantasy "Die Seejungfrau" under the discreet baton of James Conlon, the Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera. The Mozart was transparently phrased, the Zemlinsky was wallowing and late-romantic. Conlon conducted cleverly, but it was also easy for him since the NDR musicians met him with balanced registers and alert playing. It was a beautiful Sunday morning for the ones on stage and in the audience.