Jonathan Biss puts on dazzling show at the Gilmore

Jonathan Biss
Kalamazoo Gazette

By C.J. Gianakaris

KALAMAZOO — Jonathan Biss, a 2002 Gilmore Young Artist, no longer can be catalogued a pianist of great potential.

That erstwhile potential is in full bloom, evidenced in his Gilmore Festival concert Sunday afternoon.

The performance at Dalton Center Recital Hall is best described as dazzling. Prodigious technique, controlled through a filter of exceptional musical intelligence, led to revelatory playing. Familiar works took full Technicolor flight, fresh respect replacing humdrum opinion.

Biss made his case for fresh revaluations through his playing. Haydn’s Sonata in A-flat Major, Hob. XVI:46, the openner, elicited the audience’s reconsideration when Biss presented a vibrant performance brimming with charming melodies, glistening trills and pearly chromatics. After that refreshed rendering, no audience could any longer think of Haydn as dry-as-dust classicist.

Mendelssohn’s Selected “Songs Without Words” and “Variations serieuses” in D Minor, Op. 54, were played with no evident predisposed overview. A natural flowing effect reminded listeners of their initial appreciation of Mendelssohn. Even Schoenberg’s “Sechs kleine Klavierstucke” (Six short piano pieces), Op. 19, seemed tolerable to some, thanks to Biss’ informing projection of accessible elements in these dissonant works.

Biss’ greatest gift to his audience — beyond the sheer aesthetic excellence of his playing — was a fresh portrayal of Beethoven’s musical ideas, specifically in Six Bagatelles, Op. 126, and the marvelous Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a, “Les Adieux.”

Thanks to flawless technical abilities, Biss could approach Beethoven’s hoary masterpieces free of preconceived templates. Biss’ playing displayed continuous dynamic interplay that kept the music alive and virile. He was not intimidated by Beethoven, but opened the composer’s musical treasure chest for us to enjoy.

A genuine appreciation marked the standing ovation. Biss graciously responded with an elegant rendition of the Andante Cantabile movement from Mozart’s Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K330, capping an extraordinary recital.