Violinist Miriam Fried and pianist Jonathan Biss are an engaging mother-son musical duo

November 18, 2013

Family music duos are fraught with risks; who is carrying whom, we often wonder. But, sometimes the quality and chemistry announce themselves from the first notes, such as with instrumentalists Claude Frank and his daughter Pamela, and with violinist Miriam Fried and her son, pianist Jonathan Biss. The Fried/Biss duo presented a splendid program of sonatas by Janacek, Schumann and Beethoven at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville on Sunday evening.

Fried’s tone has lost the bloom it had in her prime, and there’s a sense of squeezing now on long notes. But her musicianship is unimpaired and profound. She remains a true artist who spins out phrases with clear expressive design, logic and beauty. To have a world-class pianist, who not only follows but goads and impels her, adds immeasurably to the experience. The last few times I have heard the Schumann D Minor Sonata were with young competition-winners and hired accompanists. The difference here was almost overwhelming; each idea growing like tendrils between the two instruments and common material rendered as if from one mind.

The Janacek sonata is a typically aphoristic work, its darting themes refracting musical ideas from different angles, always seeming to end too soon. The duo caught the questioning character with vivid contrasts and dramatic timing. The Schumann is not one of the composer’s strongest works; it is overly discursive at times. But, again, the sense of two high-level artists exploring every inch together was refreshing.

In Beethoven’s final violin sonata (Op. 96), Biss seemed to take the lead, drawing out the rhetoric with more force than his mother. Little technical slips from both of them at the end, one right after the other, were almost endearing. This was an evening of very fine music-making.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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