His program featured two lesser-known items: Leos Janacek’s Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 and Arnold Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19. It also featured two mighty ones, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No. 15 in D Major, Op. 28, “Pastoral,” and Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A Major, Op. Posth. D. 959.
This varied program is a good clue to Biss’ versatility and unconventional approach to his art.
The Janacek piece is an “incomplete” work in that the third and final movement is missing. The date refers to the anniversary of a protest in Brno, Czechoslovakia, during which a young demonstrator was killed. It has a reflective, pensive feel that Biss expressed with great sensitivity.
Next on the program was the Beethoven piece, with its creator’s signature storminess and complexity. Beethoven wrote it after the much-loved “Moonlight” sonata. Its intensity may stem from the year in which it was composed, 1801. Beethoven was losing his hearing and suffering accordingly; his publisher appended the “Pastoral” designation. Biss performed it beautifully.
The Six Little Pieces, according to the program notes, were written after Schoenberg turned away from his early Romantic associations and before his involvement in the 12-tone system. They are expressions of Schoenberg’s experimentation with nontonal, but not atonal, composition. Biss seemed completely absorbed in them.
The program ended with Schubert’s sonata, written not long before the end of the composer’s life. It is characteristically complex and has themes running backward and forward, providing vivid color to the different movements. Here again, Biss was blissfully involved with the music and played joyfully.
The performer received a warm ovation from the audience at the end of his performance, and did not offer any encores.
Biss is a fine pianist and rather imposing physically, in an Ichabod Crane-ish sort of way. I take the liberty of saying this after accessing the artist’s Web site. Any classical music lovers out there who also have a somewhat mordant sense of humor might want to do the same. It is informative and entirely hilarious.