A lot of pianists play Schumann while dreaming of other composers. What Jonathan Biss knows, however, and what he put into practice Wednesday night at the Perelman Theater, is the idea that Schumann is like no one else. To emphasize the topographical similarities to Schubert or Beethoven would be to round off Schumann's angular rhythms or not heed the slippery beauty of his harmonic oddities. Schumann is not Liszt with a little rose water sprinkled on top.
The composer's Davidsbündlertänze were played earlier this season in another Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert, and yet Biss' way with it would not have worn out its welcome if he had played it twice more. Biss uses a slight rubato, or not. He keeps his firepower in check, and then he doesn't. Visualists in the audience, just look away - the body language is that of a clockmaker. But has anyone ever portrayed Florestan and Eusebius in a more fevered conflict than the way Biss whipped up the penultimate movement, "As if from afar," before letting it collapse into a shattered peace?