Jonathan Biss, Milton Court, London, review: His readings were often unorthodox, but they carried convincing authority

Jonathan Biss
The Independent

The phrase ‘late style’ has recently come to have a quite specific meaning, particularly with regard to music. It was originally coined by the German Marxist philosopher Theodor Adorno, as a label for his doctrinaire view of Beethoven. 

Meanwhile the American pianist Jonathan Biss is half-way through a series of recitals in which he juxtaposes the music of a variegated clutch of composers, including Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, and Kurtag at Milton Court. He doesn’t force any generalisations: all he says is that at a late stage in each of these composers’ lives, ‘something caused them to completely change their style’.

And his performance bore this out. Schumann’s Gesänge der Frühe was written as madness crept up on him, and Biss evoked its desperately bleak sound-world with haunting eloquence. A selection of miniatures from Kurtag’s Jatekok was rendered with velvet touch and singing pedal. Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie – which really does seem to be asking ‘what kind of piece am I?’ – was followed by ten of Brahms’s late masterpieces, the Opus 118 and 119 Klavierstücke. Biss’s readings were often unorthodox, but they carried convincing authority. This pianist loves to provoke, but he’s a true keyboard poet.
Read the rest of the review here