Everyday Rather Live in Classic Eras

Jonathan Biss’ complete 32 Beethoven sonatas on ONYX CLASSICS

The celebrated American pianist Jonathan Biss is recording the complete 32 Beethoven sonatas at the rate of one CD a year. He plans to finish it as he turns 40 – and still has some way to go. This third disc presents three contrasting pieces, each of strongly defined character. The ‘Pastorale’ Sonata, Op.28, is a mostly sunny yet occasionally enigmatic piece, its subtitle sparked by the drone basses and lilting rhythms of its outer movements. The G major Sonata Op.31/1 features plenty of humour, the first movement apparently a skit on pianists’ tendencies to play with uncoordinated hands. Finally the ‘Waldstein’, Op.53, finds Beethoven at his mid-career peak, with an elemental energy that seems to foreshadow his late sonatas.

Biss is at his finest in the wittiest, most intimate moments of these ever-mesmerising works. His lightness of touch and the subtlety of his musical smile pay dividends in the relaxed, loping gait of Op.28 and the quicksilver irony of Op.31/1. The great ‘Waldstein’ Sonata, though, inhabits a different world. It needs to reach towards something visionary and transcendent, and has often been best served – especially in the heights of the final movement – by pianists who can offer a transparent, colourful tone and the ability to catch fire and soar. Biss is not quite there yet; he remains a little too deliberate and dogged to quit the earth for the flames.