Jonathan Biss approaches the music of Robert Schumann as, literally, a multimedia project. The pianist’s Celebrity Series recital at Jordan Hall on Friday was called “Under the Influence,” a title echoed by a long essay on Schumann that Biss published as a Kindle Single last year. The program placed Schumann alongside other composers with intersecting manners. The concert was the first of two: Biss returns on April 12 with the Elias String Quartet to further the investigation by means of chamber music. Every angle, every frame, every witness is another medium through which Schumann’s spirit might be contacted.
In his writing, Biss has emphasized Schumann’s knack for seeming psychological confession, making the listener feel that the composer’s inner life has been revealed. “The part of each of us that is well and truly alone,” he notes, “when Schumann writes in his musical diary, that is what he is addressing, without equivocation and without varnish.” But the themes on Friday’s concert were also extroverted and social, tracing Schumann’s influence by mingling it with its historical reverberations. On the first half, Biss interspersed Schumann’s Op. 12 “Fantasiestücke” with five movements drawn from Leos Janacek’s “On an Overgrown Path,” the early-20th-century Czech-accented miniatures a nifty, near-seamless extension of Schumann’s concentrated 19th-century-Romantic swatches.