Reviews

Not in the past many months had I heard another such a spectacular display of piano virtuosity as in Sundayís Boston Civic Symphony concert under Max Hobart at Jordan Hall, where Jonathan Bass fearlessly and brilliantly tackled two really tough pieces with all the energy needed, and with all the sensitivity and warm expression as well. This being the sesquicentennial year of Richard Strauss, the Civic decided to honor him with the Burleske. This twenty-minute-long concerto in one movement owes something to the first movement of Brahmsís First Concerto (just as long, but much more integrated), and it sprawls in form, going on from several moments where one expects it to end. But though not notably tuneful, it is winningly witty, and admirably pianistic; most of all the Burleske is a genuine contest with the orchestra, while Brahmsís concerto is really more of a symphony.
Mark DeVoto, www.classical-scene.com (November, 2014) [read complete review]

... superb performances by the Boston-based Walden Chamber Players showcase emotionally complex, deeply beautiful chamber music by the Austrian Gerhard Schedl (1957-2000). Staring out from the CD cover as if conflicted between art and privacy (he was a victim of suicide), Schedl is one of those rare composers whose musical thoughts fuse spontaneously with their emotions, like breathing, whose own distinctive voice emerges slyly.

Schedl processes his modernist musical ideas through seemingly chance, absorbing encounters ranging from desperate Second Viennese energies and late Beethoven fugues to transparent Mozartian consolations. Astounding moments of light and shade make the listener forget the musicís obvious pain. Schedl also knows how to write a devastating adagio, and has a keen earís infatuation with tactile sounds and their immediacy. At the opening of the String Trioís third movement, he shows an intimate familiarity and ease with the comfort zones where instruments make their most exquisite noises. And as good as his writing is for strings alone in the String Trio and A due for violin and cello, it is stunning when clarinetist Ben Seltzer and pianist Jonathan Bass join in for A tri and A cinque. The sound, recorded in the WGBH sutdios in Boston, is audiophile in its detail. The booklet-notes provide a good introduction to Schedlís life and music, headed by a quote that may have served as his mantra: ďMusic is an addiction.Ē
Lawrence Vittes, Gramophone Magazine (review of Walden Players Schedl CD) [read complete review]

Superbly played Bach and Chopin with haunting music by Pinkham ... This enterprising recital by Jonathan Bass, on the faculty of the Boston Conservatory since 1993, contains superb Bach and Chopin and the world preiere recording of 12 absorbing Preludes by American composer Daniel Pinkham, ... This quiet music is not conventionally memorable, but its combined sense of purpose and formal intergrity, with Bass's elegant playing providing eloquent continuity, results in a surprisingly moving experience. ...

Bass's commanding playing is particularly in evidence in the Bach, Chopin and Pinkham. He has technique to burn but prefers to drive the music with colour and a striking ability to connect inner harmonic details without seeming academic. Bass's performance [of the Scriabin] stresses the vision and contemplation it shares with the other music on the programme. The spectacular HDCD recordingÖprovides unforced, viscerally beautiful piano sound.
Gramophone Magazine (review of Americus Records CD)

... The eeriness of the opening movement ó moving uncertainly between major and minor ó is swept away by the perpetual motion machine of the second. It was given an expert, brightly colored performance by Elizabeth Rowe and guest pianist Jonathan Bass.

Bass remained on stage for Mozartís Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452, a candidate for most neglected masterpiece in the composerís oeuvre. Joining him were oboist John Ferrillo, clarinetist William Hudgins, bassoonist Richard Ranti, and horn player James Sommerville. They gave a meticulous, beautifully contoured performance, well balanced and alert to the musicís nuances.
David Weininger, The Boston Globe (January, 2011) [read complete review]

Those lucky Bostonians. They get to hear Jonathan Bass all the time. Fortunately for us, the folks who run the Bay Area's Steinway Society know about Bass, a Massachusetts-based pianist who taught years ago at San Jose State University. Sunday night, they brought him to Le Petit Trianon for a recital and voila! His performance was one of remarkable range and imagination, not to mention thoughtfulness and soul. How often do you hear a pianist move from Bach to Chopin to Barber and Scriabin over the course of an evening? Not often enough. But Bass handled just about all of it -- from baroque dances to Polish mazurkas to Barber's blues and Scriabin's mystical jazziness -- with keen understanding during his nearly two-hour performance at the intimate concert hall in downtown San Jose.

Bass, who chairs the keyboard department at Boston University and is active on the Boston chamber music scene, began with Bach's Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826. It had it all: clear lyricism in the Allemande; uncoiling energy in the Courante. Frankly, he out-Bached a number of bigger names who have rolled through the Bay Area in recent months.

Next, Chopin. For all of Bass' prodigious technical feats in the Ballade No. 2 in F major, Opus 38, there was some muddiness in the stormy passages. But then came the mazurkas! You had to wonder if Bass has been involved in some sort of on-site study of this lively folk dance in triple meter; he was at home with it and its heel-clicking leaps in a rare way. He played the four Opus 24 mazurkas. Aside from his rhythmic acumen (such clear, comfortable tempos) and acute note-by-note and chord-by-chord definition, there was, again, lyricism and rich feeling, and yet a restraint. There was no milking the music, just loving it. He segued from the final mazurka to the Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Opus 52, which he delivered with tender muscularity. Most pianists would finish a program with this kind of grand, emotionally charged and technically challenging work, but Bass was only halfway done.

The recital's second half began with Samuel Barber's ''Excursions.'' Poor Barber: All anyone remembers him for is his enormously sad ''Adagio for Strings,'' yet he wrote so much more. Dating to 1944, ''Excursions'' is a four-movement work that pays tribute, in sequence, to four American folk and pop-roots forms: boogie-woogie (though Barber handles the left-hand riffs, oddly, without syncopation), blues, cowboy song and the hoedown. Bass, interestingly, seemed not quite as home with it as he was with the Polish mazurkas. Still, his blues, in the second movement, was steady and languorous. The variations on ''Streets of Laredo,'' in the third, were gossamer-elegant, then crisp, then wistful and regal. Best was the last movement, a pointillist hoedown, with hand-over-hand choreography up and down the keyboard and an evaporating, fairy-dust fillip to wrap it up.

All of this was building toward Scriabin. And why is the Russian's piano music not played more often? Looking back across the last century, Scriabin's richly varied and innovative textures and atmospherics stand as worthy partners to Ravel. They also seep through the decades into jazz (from Bill Evans to Cecil Taylor) and the artsy side of musical theater. One reason his music may not be played as much as it should be is this: It's hard. Even the slowly unfolding etudes that Bass played with such luxurious confidence (the B-flat minor, Opus 8, No. 11, and the F-sharp major, Opus 42, No. 4) are far more difficult than they sound. They are peppered with cross-rhythms as well as inner voices that the composer wants to coax from the pianist's fingers in the most unexpected ways; an average player could take years perfecting a 30-second snippet of this stuff. Tackling the Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp major or the Sonata No. 5, Opus 53, as Bass also did, is even more difficult. The fourth sonata begins in a Bill Evans-at-twilight mood, deeply reflective, then turns percussive with crabbed, sculpted phrases (the Cecil Taylor dimension) flying about. Bass made it all a drama, so stealthily calibrated that the incremental cranking up of the work's inner urgency was hard to notice.

In the fifth sonata, Scriabin plays with tonality, making it tantalizingly ambiguous so that the music hangs suspended or floats toward mystical regions. The fifth also has a great, upward-scrolling song at its center; some pianists make this sound joyful and innocent, like a prelude to ''The Fantasticks.'' Not Bass, whose fifth was more initiation than celebration, more secretive and even threatening than high-spirited. He played it with percussive precision -- even those dense successions of chords, each one different than the last -- and toured his listeners through maelstroms and inner chambers and then high up into a tower of holy bells.
San Jose Mercury News (March 2007)

The relatively intimate confines of Boston Conservatory's Seully Hall were filled to bursting Tuesday evening, 8 December, for a solo recital given as part of the Conservatory's Piano Masters Series. Faculty member Jonathan Bass took listeners on an ambitious chronological voyage sampling works from three centuries and four classical music periods ...

Apparently requiring no light, ivory-tickling warm-up piece, Dr. Bass immediately plunged into J.S. Bach's Partita No. 2 in c minor, BWV 826. This meaty work is one of a suite of six, the third and final set of dance movements Bach composed, following the English and French Suites. The partitas are mature, complex compositions featuring JSB at his contrapuntal best. Bass's performance was nuanced and elegant, with sophisticated, soft-edged interpretations that appropriately reflected the depth of the music. ... The hands-down highlight of the evening for this listener was the final piece, Samuel Barber's Sonata, op. 26. This virtuosic work, composed in 1949, utilizes 12-tone serialism tempered by Barber's signature lyricism. Angular yet melodic, with more than a passing whiff of Ginastera, this multifaceted sonata was given an exciting rendition in the capable hands of Bass. The heavily syncopated final Fuga was especially electrifying, and Bass tossed it off with aplomb.
The Boston Musical Intelligencer (December 2009)

... the whole cycle is a very attractive and nicely contrasted set of miniatures, all superbly crafted and cast in a colourful, accessible idiom. ... Jonathan Bass plays superbly throughout and proves an eminent and convincing advocate of Bellís consistently fine and attractive music.
Hubert Culot, musicweb-international (Larry Bell: Reminiscences and Reflections CD) [read complete review]