Two eminent American musicians, violinist Miriam Fried and pianist Jonathan Biss appeared together Sunday afternoon in a concert at International Student House as part of the Phillips Music series. The moment the music began, it was as though the audience had been hit by wall of water. Except this was no ordinary flood. It was musicmaking so powerful, grounded, earnest, and incontestable that it was all but overwhelming. There was no option but to go with the flow.
Fried and Biss alternately proclaimed and confided the ripe lyricism of Brahms’s Second Sonata with a direct simplicity that could not have been more authoritative had they just walked out of the composer’s studio. Bela Bartok’s uncompromising Second Violin Sonata from 1922 stands with one foot firmly planted in the rich soil of ancient folk tradition and the other in the physical and political rubble of Hungary in the aftermath of World War I. Fried and Biss balanced the psychological duress of the music with its earthy folk dance elements in an interpretation that was affirmative, as well as breathtakingly virtuosic.
Both artists seemed in their native element in Beethoven’s C Minor Sonata. Passages evoking stormy desperation, beatific serenity, boisterous high spirits and a flight from the furies were delivered with vivid articulation and poised phrasing. Deftly calculated contrasts and vibrant rhythm prevailed. It was a performance that captured Beethoven at his most human.
It is a rare experience to be in the presence of two individuals who, spontaneously and in perfect accord, bend their implacable wills toward a common goal with such beautiful results. Very few chamber music partnerships, even those of long duration, can boast such power. Fried and Biss have it. And not coincidentally, they are mother and son.