This CD is part of
EMI’s Debut series bringing us artists
"on the brink of major international
careers". One could be skeptical
of the "on the brink" classification,
but there is no denying the advantages
to the record-buying public. This disc
costs less than a Naxos CD and gives
us the opportunity to hear masterful
music performed by young adult artists
who might one day attain stardom.
At the young age of
twenty-three, Mr. Biss has quite a list
of credentials to his credit. He studied
under Leon Fleisher at the Curtis Institute
of Music and has performed with leading
orchestras including the New York Philharmonic,
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco
Symphony Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic,
and the Staatskapelle Berlin. In addition,
Biss has won the Gilmore Young Artist
Award, the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award,
and received an Avery Fisher Career
Grant. This EMI disc represents his
recording debut, and certainly presents
a worthy set of performances.
As with many young
pianists, Biss is technically adept
and offers his most compelling interpretations
in fast, powerful, and confident music.
What he needs to concentrate on in the
future is refining his sense of nuance,
personality, and the inevitability of
the musical progression of a work.
Here is my synopsis
of the Biss performances:
– With 18 movements expressing a
myriad of styles and emotions, this
is a work that well covers the strengths
and weaknesses that Biss brings to the
recording studio. He gives us an excellent
picture of the Schumann alter-ego Florestan
who is the man of immediate, impetuous,
and unrelenting action. Biss even injects
some wild abandon into Florestan, and
that is always an effective stroke.
The exuberant and confident movements
such as the 3rd and 8th
Movements show Biss exhibiting much
gusto and a delightfully playful quality.
He is also exceptional in the powerful
and dramatic movements, particularly
the 4th and 6th
Schumann’s other alter-ego,
Eusebius, does not receive as compelling
a portrayal. Eusebius represents enlightenment,
and Schumann adds illumination to the
personality through incisive inflections
from the upper-voice melody lines. Unfortunately,
the Biss inflections are sometimes extremely
weak as in the 2nd and 5th
Movements. The result is music without
the capacity to pierce one’s heart.
Another concern I have
is how Biss tends to treat the Schumann
interludes where Florestan and Eusebius
are in conversation. Surprisingly, Biss
does not invest Florestan with sufficient
strength and vigor, a failing most prevalent
in the 10th and 13th
Sonata – Biss identifies well with the
power, tension, and sudden changes in
tempo and dynamics of the outer movements.
However, his Andante con moto lacks
stature, and the variations sound contrived.
Fantasy in G minor
– Bliss plays this piece in a highly
lyrical and rather polite manner. The
approach has its appeal, but Bliss does
not convey the more primitive elements
in the music.
Overall, the Biss performances
are in the ‘hit or miss’ category. It
will be interesting to see if additional
experience and insight puts Biss among
the front-rank of professional pianists.
In the meantime, there is much to enjoy
in this new disc, and I give it a mild
recommendation. I have no qualms concerning
the sound quality. It has ample depth,
richness, and detail.