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Last January pianist Jonathan Biss made his Orchestra Hall debut, playing Schumann with the Staatskapelle Berlin. This weekend Biss, who at 24 has already performed with most of the major U.S. orchestras, will play Mozart with the CSO. His first CD, released in May, confirms that he's a thoughtful, passionate musician who consistently serves the music ahead of himself. His recording of Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata is not only fiery but technically and musically solid--no small achievement. Yet his careful use of rubato and his ability to maintain suspense are even more striking. His performance of Schumann's DavidsbundlertŠnze reveals even more of his tonal palette and innate lyricism--exactly what's needed for Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 17. "Whenever I play Mozart," he's told me, "I always wonder why one bothers playing anything else." Of the six concerti Mozart composed in 1784, this is perhaps the most refined and the least virtuosic, and it has some of his most glorious writing for winds. The first movement contains a remarkable number of wonderful melodies, and the second is one of Mozart's most elegant and deeply moving. The piano part is as transparent as glass, and its apparent simplicity belies the tremendous control it demands. The third movement is a joyful theme and variations in the spirit of Papageno's bird-catcher aria from The Magic Flute--Mozart evidently liked this tune enough to teach it to one of his birds. Also on the program are two 20th-century symphonic works. Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony, from 1939, has a haunting, brooding first movement with a long, sweeping melody. Walter Piston's Symphony no. 2, from 1943, also begins with a long-lined melody in minor, but soon takes its own path, incorporating many Americanisms. Leonard Slatkin conducts. Fri 12/10, 1:30 PM and Sat 12/11, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $13-$91.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chester Higgins.

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