Cleveland Orchestra with Leon Fleisher / Beethoven Piano Concerti Nos 2 & 3
“Entering both works in a vivacious mood, the pianist…lit a spark in the ensemble and brought off scenes of crisp, dynamic action. His account of the Third Concerto’s cadenza was as fiery as any in recent memory.
Biss dove right in with gusto, leading his partners in zesty, gleeful performances entirely in keeping with the spirit of the music.
Biss and the orchestra…filled the space so sublimely, using the time to craft reveries of transcendent beauty.”
The Plain Dealer, December 2013
Caramoor Recital / Beethoven Sonatas Nos 24, 15, 16 & 21
“The “Waldstein”…was shaping up to be something special, with the jangling nervous energy Mr. Biss imparted to the first movement giving way to a suitably grand and sober adagio.”
New York Times, July 2013
Sydney Symphony with Antonello Manacorda / Mozart Piano Concerto No.22 K.482
“He is a player of nuanced expressive imagination, shaping and colouring phrases with instinctive refinement and individuality.”
Brisbane Times, July 2013
SCHUMANN SERIES – Schumann: Under the Influence
Lyon Recital / Schumann, Janacek & Berg
“Committed and focused, he took every possible risk, placing emphasis on the melody, varying tempi with great flexibility, and pausing between each phrase or movement to create perfectly dream-like phrasing.
Mastery always allows for spontaneity. Rigorous and spirited, he balanced touching simplicity with power devoid of any aggression, and conferred to this cycle, one of the finest of German Romanticism, a structure as readable as it was dense.”
Concert Classic, May 2013
Carnegie Hall / Chamber music with Elias Quartet / Schumann, Mozart, Andres & Janacek
“Their collaboration proved particularly memorable in the gorgeous rendition of Schumann’s Piano Quartet, which concluded the evening, enhanced by Mr. Biss’s sensitive, elegant pianism.”
New York Times, April 2013
San Francisco Recital / Schumann, Janáček & Berg
“Biss went further than merely paring Schumann’s works with those of different composers.
Each of the pieces [Davidsbündlertänze] was carved meticulously, with an intense ardor for details, and with calculated precision."
San Francisco Classical Voice, March 2013
Carnegie Hall Recital / Schumann, Janáček & Mozart
“When he played the final benison of Schumann’s “End of the Song”, one felt that Mr. Biss had surveyed a landscape in the company of Keats and Byron, both mystical and emotionally exciting. But the comments were those of poetry.
The joy and pain which he wanted to be attached to each work [Davidsbündlertänze] were subjugated to Mr. Biss’s marvelous playing. These were not “dances” of the title, but whimsical thoughts, tiny nightmares, pieces that tripped over each other telling stories, and, with the pianist’s immense artistry, relating those dark and spirited ideas which tumbled out of the composer’s most secret soul.”
Concertonet, March 2013
“Mr. Biss’s clear playing exaggerated neither the fury nor the lyricism in Schumann’s “Phantasiestücke” and “Davidsbündlertänze” cycles […]. His lines always had both flowing smoothness, as in the liquid left hand and sweetly melodic right of “Fable” in the “Phantasiestücke,” and a touch of steel at the edges.
These were lucid, flexible performances that built through the evening, more powerful in their totality — the full, breathlessly inexorable span of the “Davidsbündlertänze,” for one — than as miracles of vivid color or moment-by-moment drama.”
New York Times, March 2013
Wigmore Hall Schumann Series / Schumann, Kurtag & Beethoven
“Jonathan Biss's two-concert residency at the Wigmore Hall centred on Schumann. This short series was not just a routine presentation of familiar pieces, though, but an attempt to place Schumann in a wider historical context. For this programme, Biss had recruited tenor Mark Padmore, viola player Kim Kashkashian and clarinettist Romie de Guise-Langlois for two mirror-like pairs of works: in the first, Schumann was the object of the tribute, while in the second it was Schumann who was paying the homage.
[...] Biss followed that with a performance of the piano work [Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major] that swept all before it. It is easy to turn the Fantasy into a showpiece – it was dedicated to Liszt, after all – but Biss never does anything just for effect, and everything here had a point and musical purpose. He has few peers as a Schumann pianist today.”
The Guardian, October 2012
Malboro Recital / Beethoven Quintet in E-flat Major Op. 16
“Pianist Biss played each of his many solo turns with astonishing beauty. I resolved to hear him again whenever he is in Boston”
The Boston Music Intelligencer, July 2012
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with Gunther Herbig / Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3
“ … His virtuosity was arrestingly evident in his crisp articulation throughout the piece — indeed, every note in each of the runs up and down the keyboard was as clearly heard as it would have been on a fortepiano, with no loss of finesse or continuity of line.”
The Washington Post, June 2012
Berlin Philharmonie Recital / Beethoven & Janáček
“Word has got around that pianists with an incredible sensitivity are here to play the Steinway. 31-year-old Jonathan Biss fits perfectly into this series... Such a programme is only put together by someone who feels total confidence and is not afraid of making any bold statements.
Of slender appearance he is a powerful performer. The way he opens Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5 in C minor with a no-frills drive forward - sinewy and with rich sound - immediately draws one in. Biss doesn’t overly emphasise the fragility that hides behind this vitality. Not after each phrase, but after each work lurks an abyss. The way he immediately lifts the fog in Janacek’s In the Mist without leaving the pieces’ elementary questioning impressed as much as his fresh approach to the Moonlight Sonata. Biss developed Janacek’s piano sonata between anticipation and grief as an intimate connoisseur and in Beethoven’s Les Adieux Sonata’s furious frenzy of reunion, he allows room for searching. Big applause!”
Der Tagesspiegel, April 2012
Washington Performing Arts Society Recital / Beethoven, Chopin & Janáček
“Before he played a note, the audience was his. Biss has that perfectly natural, yet immediately communicative presence granted to few artists. When he plays, it is to the accompaniment of absolute silence in the room, the rapt attention that audiences pay to only the best music-making.
Biss’s unqualified identification with Beethoven’s affective ways and means, his ability to inhabit the music wholeheartedly, lent his performances a psychological cohesion and authenticity.
Biss built Janacek’s In the Mists musical argument with such skill and subtlety that the tragic climax was little short of devastating... Biss’s approach to Chopin is every bit as original as his interpretations of Beethoven.
A piece from Schumann’s Kreisleriana was the encore rounding out what was undoubtedly one of the most powerfully eloquent recitals heard in Washington this season.”
The Washington Post, February 2012
International Piano Series, Queen Elizabeth Hall / Beethoven, Chopin & Janáček
“This is no-frills Beethoven, uncompromisingly direct and a reminder of how much the music itself flouts convention. The ricocheting opening of Sonata No.5 had something of the compressed, titanic energy we associate primarily with the fifth and seventh symphonies. The full tone Biss deployed here was replaced in Les Adieux by sinewy textures, wonderfully suited to its mix of desolation and turbulent complexity ...
Les Adieux came at the end of a programme that demanded huge reserves of emotion, as well as technical finesse. The Beethoven sonatas were separated by music by Janacek and Chopin. Biss was revelatory in the Janacek, wringing every shred of intensity from In the Mists.”
Tim Ashley, The Guardian, four stars, January 2012
“The youthful fire of the Beethoven C Minor Sonata, Op.10 No.1, was a good place for him to start, plunging in headlong but with enough control to keep a grip on the rhythms. The chances are that Biss will find plenty of con brio (with fire) throughout, as he feels closest to Beethoven the fighter, throwing his whole body into the music’s jabbing sforzando punches.”
Richard Fairman, Financial Times, January 2012
“Out of these hyperactive textures Janacek emerge heart-warming lyrical statements that throb with the suffering of humanity. Here Biss rose to the occasion splendidly, as he did in a pair of Chopin pieces which successfully explored their poetic sensibility.”
Barry Millington, Evening Standard, January 2012
“He urges each expressive phrase to the maximum, and not for a second does he allow the music’s own energy to carry him.
This can produce wonderful things. Biss is a pianist of wide range, and in this recital he placed two works by Janacek next to Chopin, book-ending their overtly impassioned and introverted music with the very different expressivity of Beethoven.
Biss has a particular gift for highlighting these changes in emotional colour.
But it’s not just these momentary changes he makes eloquent. Biss always keeps his eye on the long perspective. In Janacek’s suite In the Mists, the last movement’s opening phrase returns again at the end, and Biss revealed all the emotional freight it had acquired in between.
All this hinged on Biss’s gift for making a complicated texture seem transparent and eloquent. It gave his performances of two Chopin pieces a dignified and epic quality, without even a trace of pianistic bravura.”
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph, January 2012
“It was good to see Biss jump in with the fifth sonata Op.10 No.3 – these early works are remarkably daring in conception, and their slow movements adumbrate Beethoven at his most oracular. The opening phrase of the Allegro molto was smart as a whip, followed immediately by an answering theme of honeyed sweetness: the contrast was extreme, and absolutely right. Biss delineated the Adagio – a long essay in motion and stillness, sound and silence - with marvellous assurance, hurling bolts of lightning into a placid summer landscape. The last movement came like an explosion of muscular energy, with its surprises sprung to maximum effect right down to the astonishing key-change in the last few bars.”
Michael Church, The Independent, four stars, January 2012
Curtis Institute of Music / Beethoven
“Some musicians express their deepest thoughts through playing. Others have a gift for beautifully articulating in words what they do and why they do it. Both qualities happen to reside in pianist Jonathan Biss.”
Philadelphia Enquirer, October 2011
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra with Peter Oundjian / Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5
“Biss, 30, has grown into a marvelous player, one who clearly feels at home with Beethoven. His opening flourishes and trills were saturated with color and feeling. Rhythmically incisive, his playing got at Beethoven's fierceness, then melted through the composer's otherworldy reveries.”
Mercury News, April 2011
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Andris Nelsons / Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2
“It was one of the most impressive performances he has given at Heinz Hall.
Fast tempi for the outer movements were comfortable for the pianist, whose personality was perfectly attuned to the piece from a decisive point of view. His articulation was clear as a bell. Every one of Beethoven's gestures had integrity under his fingers.
Biss played Beethoven's second cadenza for the first movement, one that was written decades after the concerto itself. Biss made it thoroughly convincing.”
Pittsburgh Tribune, March 2011
London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Colin Davis / Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3
“Two lightning flash runs... announced the arrival of Beethoven's third piano concerto and pianist Jonathan Biss at the keyboard in terrifically dramatic mode ...
Biss's was the account of a true troubled traveller, full of changes of character - now the shouter, now the singer, now the imp - subsumed into one coherent and compelling voice.
The Largo saw some excellent pedalling that bled colours but never swamped them and the lolling head of the piano was perfectly put to sleep and then roused to action. Just as well. There are strange apparitions to be encountered in the mostly jaunty Allegro con brio and both Davis and Biss relished the arrival of every single one.”
The Arts Desk.com, March 2011
Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital / Janáček, Rands, Schumann & Beethoven
“The tone is exquisite, and the technique masterly without drawing attention to itself. But the power comes in how Biss feels the music ...
The encore was yet another startling personal statement, a revelation even: the Andante cantabile from Mozart's Piano Sonata No.10 in C major (K.330) ... it was straightforward, unaffected grace until the last poignant bars, which, hushed and delicate, brought the curtain down with nearly devastating beauty.”
The Philadelphia Enquirer, January 2011
Onyx Classics / Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.3 - Nos 15, 16 and 21
“Whether hearing him in recital or listening to his recordings, one is struck by the wealth of colour, nuance and articulation in his playing. Biss has a sound that is near-orchestral in its variety, the sort of thing that is achieved only by thinking un-pianistically, outside the black box, as it were. His sonorous palette, completely individual though never at odds with the instrument, has a breadth unusual for so young a pianist. Yet beyond any influences of pianistic bloodlines, genetic predispositions or nurturing environments, the most remarkable aspect of Biss’s compelling music-making is surely his multi-faceted imagination. Rooted in deep intelligence, spurred by insatiable curiosity, and laced with an infectious sense of humour, Biss’s musical imagination has done little but expand exponentially in the years I have followed his career.”
International Record Review, April 2014
“It’s a powerful trio of works, and an equally powerful set of performances. Biss draws out their uniqueness in each case, the unpretentious subtleties of the Pastorale, the agile wit of the G major, and the electrifyingly suppressed dynamism of the Waldstein. Thoughtfulness and bravado coexist in Biss’s superlatively detailed performances, which are fresh and inspire at every turn.”
Scotsman, January 2014
“Does any musical pleasure surpass a Beethoven piano sonata well played, as on this intensely enjoyable disc? Only a handful of the 32 are regularly heard — like the Waldstein, given a dazzling performance here — yet few are not strikingly original, individual pieces. Of the three Op 31 sonatas, No 2 (the Tempest) and the splendid No 3 are much more familiar than No 1. But what a delight that one is, too, as Biss shows in a performance that brings out its wit and the subversive humour that Beethoven can never suppress for long.”
Sunday Times, January 2014
“Biss negotiates the rocking figures and the syncopes with smooth elan, and his large chords suggest the restrained power that Beethoven’s even “simple” tropes contain.
Biss has Beethoven’s wry and often rough humor well under his hands, much in a manner of percussion and timing I know from Rudolf Serkin’s legacy.
Jonathan Biss reminds us that the ever-popular Waldstein Sonata contains as many pp markings as it does monumental fortes, and that rare is the performer who notes and effects its harmonic and dynamic ambiguities.”
Audiophile Audition, February 2014
Onyx Classics / Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.2 - Nos. 4, 14, 24 & Fantasy Op.77
“It is difficult to imagine a performance of the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata’s ‘Adagio’ more forthright and unaffected than this, yet withal shrouded in an aura of impenetrable mystery. Without resorting to indulgence or poetic embellishment, Biss makes this most familiar of all piano pieces sound almost disturbingly new.
The crowning jewel of this CD is the E flat Sonata of 1797, the longest of them all, save the ‘Hammerklavier’, Biss captures the precocious audacity of the young Beethoven, giving full rein to all its excitement and drama within a classical framework that always sounds perfectly natural. The questing ‘Largo con gran espressione’ has unmistakeable spiritual depth. The third movement, hovering between minuet and scherzo, is delivered with great subtlety and wit.
These [Sonatas] are rare, intelligent, deeply musical performances by a splendid pianist who is wise beyond his years. I urge you not to miss them.”
International Record Review, “IRR Outstanding”, April 2013
“The second volume of Jonathan Biss’s beethoven cycle for Onyx begins with the Op. 7 Sonata, where the first movement grabs your attention by virtue of the pianist’s lean sonority, linear clarity and headlong yet controlled brio. Rapt concentration and strong dynamic contrasts prove no less riveting in the Largo.
Biss brings graceful simplicity to the Moonlight Sonata’s celebrated opening Adagio and plays the Allegretto with chamber-like attention to inner counterpoints.
Biss is at his best in the little Op. 78 Sonata. He unfolds the first movement’s rotary patterns with feathery suppleness and songful momentum, while bringing just the right rollicking character, lightness and witty timing to the finale, especially in the composer’s quick shifts from major to minor mode and back again. In sum, Biss’s Beethoven has appreciably evolved and hopefully will continue to do so over the course of future volumes.”
Gramophone, April 2013
“Biss makes clear his admiration for [the youth compositions] and, on this disc, the second of his projected complete recording of the sonatas, he gives pride of place to an early masterpiece, the E flat sonata, Op 7 — a work whose first movement, his brilliant performance shows, exemplifies “Beethoven’s enormous personality at its most exultant”, and whose slow movement, beautifully played, plumbs the depths.”
The Times, January 2013
Onyx Classics / Schumann and Dvořák: Piano Quintets / With Elias String Quartet
“This coupling of two of the most beloved nineteenth century works for piano and the Elias String Quarter and Jonathan Biss is one of the most enjoyable and compelling chamber music recordings released this year.
The joyful ebullience of the Schumann’s opening is perfectly captured, the impression it leaves all the more striking for the care lavished on the subtlest of contrasts. The aching grief of the slow movement is all the more eloquent for its poised restraint. Biss and Elias play to the strengths of the scherzo which, without difficulty, can devolve into endless note spinning. Their success is due to scrupulous attention to the smallest details, combined with an unerring sense of shaping individual phrases, as well as the hierarchy of phrases within larger sections.
It is an inspired reading, entirely original, deeply touching, filled with risks posed and triumphantly met and when not actually ablaze, exudes a kaleidoscopic luminosity and heartfelt warmth. Biss has long championed Janacek in his recitals, though he has yet to record any. Perhaps his affinity for this other musical poet of Bohemia explains some of the stunning success of the Dvorak Quintet. From Marie Bitlloch’s richly hued intoning of the pregnant opening theme, resistance is futile. An exquisitely proportioned give and take in both textures and tempos is everywhere in evidence.
Long before the arrival of the second movement, Dvorak’s constant vacillation between joy and regret, passionate ardour and melancholy are portrayed here with a sympathy and wholehearted identification that is infectious. Cooler heads and calmer hearts than mine may be able to resist tears listening to the Dumka; I could not. Dovrak’s skilful evocation of this Slavonic folk ballad, veering between extremes of tempo virtually without transition, lies at the affective heart of the quintet. Biss and the Elias, through their purity of sound and hand-in-glove fluctuations of rubato, achieve a near ideal realisation of this poetic, fragile utterance. This movement alone equals, if not surpasses, some of the most celebrated recordings of the Quintet, including those of Curzon with the Vienna Philharmonic.”
International Record Review, December 2012
“From the outset this is a reading of Schumann’s Quintet where a self-generating spontaneity sees the unbridled happiness of the opening movement pass almost in a trice. Nor does the slow movement’s impetus get sidetracked, as is so often the case in pointing to detail, yet the ensemble is meticulously precise and the Elias’s intonation spotlessly clean. In a scherzo taken very quickly; Jonathan Biss’ crisp articulation is an essential ingredient and the joyful mood of their opening movement returns in an unhurried finale where the texture is unfailingly transparent. Without reservation I commend this as a first choice.”
CD Reviews, December 2012
"A delightful coupling that brings heart-on-sleeve joy to the Schumann and bold, quicksilver energy to the Dvorak. Both performances fizzle with ideas and unabashed exuberance"
Classical Music Magazine, November 2012
“The fast-rising pianist Jonathan Biss attributes efficacious qualities to these two chamber music masterpieces, calling them "euphoria machines”. lf you could bottle what's in them, he writes in a programme.note, "it might bring an end to war and pestilence; it would certainly slow the drug trade". Ambitious words, reflected in playing of wonderful exuberance and fire in both works.”
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, October 2012
From the very opening, the most imperceptible variation of pulse suggests an intimate engagement with this music, once again demonstrated by the way these players ease into the second subject [...] – and notice how the changed the melody’s character entirely when it returns in the recapitulation.[They] manage to hold certain falling into the all-too-common fallacy of applying ersatz ‘interpretation’ simply by slowing down for the quiet bits.It’s a Schumann Quintet to place among the best of the rest and a Dvorak that I simply couldn’t stop listening to.
David Threasher, Gramophone, December 2012
Onyx Classics / Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 1 - Nos. 5, 11, 12 & 26
“I would like to be around when he gets to the end of his pilgrimage, for this is a marvellously promising beginning by one of the most thoughtful and technically accomplished pianists of the younger generation ...”
BBC Music Magazine, five stars, March 2012
“Biss, a young American pianist with an exceptional musical pedigree, intense intelligence and a fantastic sense of humour, has all the ingredients he needs to become one of today’s great Beethovenians. This disc proves he’s well on the way. He teases out the brilliant and quirky heart of the sonatas; he is affectionate in the reflective slow movements, and witty and light-fingered in the virtuoso sky-rockets. He takes nothing for granted: in his hands Beethoven is no pompous grand master but an energetic radical, bursting at the seams with fresh ideas... An exciting and sophisticated start to what promises to be a great Beethoven cycle.”
Classic FM, four stars, February 2012
“This selection works nicely and allows Biss the opportunity to demonstrate the scope of this playing: his classical refinement comes through in the early C minor sonata and, in Les Adieux, so does his heart-on-sleeve passion... The Op. 26 sonata, for example, is played with such thought provoking subtlety that you gain a new appreciation of an understated masterpiece. This is a recording that oozes musicianship; sensitivity rules over showmanship.”
Muso, January 2012
“The performances – brilliant, precisely thought, yet spontaneous-sounding – are a joy. I also like the way Biss has chosen to begin with four of the least often heard sonatas, then shows how wrong we are not to celebrate them, for in his hands they are a continuous surprise and delight.”
Sunday Times Culture, January 2012
“This first volume includes works that are not among the most popular Beethoven sonatas, but Biss makes them seem as if they should be – so although we shall have to wait for his thoughts on such as the Moonlight, Waldstein, Hammerklavier and Appassionata, this mightily impressive opening release makes their appearances keenly anticipated through playing of energy, refinement, truculence and poise. Biss, who has proved his mettle in recital, has something to say and is also very well recorded.”
Time Out, January 2012
“His touch is engagingly light. In this first volume of the complete Beethoven sonatas the textures are wonderfully transparent, and the ornamental lines in the slow movement of the C minor Sonata Op. 10 No. 1 have a lovely limpid clarity. Biss’s formal grasp is equally sure.”
The Daily Telegraph, January 2012
“There's a wonderfully unforced quality to Biss's playing that's as effective in Beethoven as it was in the outstanding Schumann disc with which he really made his name four years ago. The way in which he eases into the opening movement of the A flat Funeral March Sonata Op. 26, or perfectly weights the climaxes in Op. 81a, Les Adieux, are marks of an outstanding pianist; for those who stay the course, this could be a Beethoven cycle to treasure.”
The Guardian, four stars, January 2012