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See latest reviews of other albums..., September 2009

BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Concertos, Vol. 3 (Biret) – No. 5, “Emperor” / Choral Fantasy (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 11) 8.571261

BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies (arr. F. Liszt for piano), Vol. 5, 6 (Biret) – Nos. 6, “Pastoral” and 9, “Choral” (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 14, 15) 8.571264–65

SAINT-SAENS, C.: Piano Concerto No. 5 / RAVEL, M.: Piano Concerto in G major / Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (Biret Concerto Edition, Vol. 3) 8.571272

It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the multitude of Idil Biret Archives releases of the Turkish pianist’s diverse and impressive recordings, both old and new. The Beethoven Edition CDs are really three series in one: the concertos, the sonatas and the Liszt transcriptions of the symphonies. And the Beethoven concerto sub-series is not to be confused with the Concerto Edition, which includes works by composers other than Beethoven. The Beethoven Edition itself is due to have 19 volumes, but Volume 12 has not yet been released—although 13 through [14 and] 15 have. And the various recordings showcase Biret, who was born in 1941, at very different times in her career. The three latest IBA releases include works recorded just last year (Volume 11 [8.571261]); ones recorded in 1986 (Volumes 14–15 [8.571264–65]); and, in Volume 3 of the Concerto Edition [8.571272], a Saint-Saëns performance from 1999, a Ravel G Major from 1998 and a Ravel Left-Hand Concerto from 1996.

[It may help to provide an ordered list here, current at October 2009 – Ed.]


Piano Concerto
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Concertos, Vol. 1 (Biret) – Nos. 1, 2 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 3) 8.571253
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Concertos, Vol. 2 (Biret) – Nos. 3, 4 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 7) 8.571257
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Concertos, Vol. 3 (Biret) – No. 5, “Emperor” / Choral Fantasy (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 11) 8.571261

Piano Sonatas
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1 (Biret) – Nos. 1, 2, 19, 20 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 1) 8.571251
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2 (Biret) – Nos. 3, 5, 18 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 4) 8.571254
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3 (Biret) – Nos. 7, 21, 25 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 5) 8.571255
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4 (Biret) – Nos. 23, 28, 31 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 8) 8.571258
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 5 (Biret) – Nos. 9, 10, 13, 14 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 10) 8.571260
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 6 (Biret) – Nos. 4, 8, 27 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 12) 8.571262

Symphonies (arr. Liszt)
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies (arr. F. Liszt for piano), Vol. 1 (Biret) – Nos. 1, 2 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 2) 8.571252
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies (arr. F. Liszt for piano), Vol. 2 (Biret) – Nos. 4, 5 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 6) 8.571256
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies (arr. F. Liszt for piano), Vol. 3 (Biret) – Nos. 7, 8 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 9) 8.571259
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies (arr. F. Liszt for piano), Vol. 4 (Biret) – No. 3, “Eroica” (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 13) 8.571263
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies (arr. F. Liszt for piano), Vol. 5, 6 (Biret) – Nos. 6, “Pastoral” and 9, “Choral” (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 14, 15) 8.571264–65


SCHUMANN, R.: Piano Concerto / GRIEG, E.: Piano Concerto (Biret Concerto Edition, Vol. 1) 8.571270
TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 (Biret Concerto Edition, Vol. 2) 8.571271
SAINT-SAENS, C.: Piano Concerto No. 5 / RAVEL, M.: Piano Concerto in G major / Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (Biret Concerto Edition, Vol. 3) 8.571272

What makes this confusion worth wading through are the artist at its center and the intellectual as well as emotional stimulation of hearing her highly organized, carefully structured approach to all this music—an approach that has remained remarkably consistent through the decades. Biret’s formidable technical skill is always placed at the service of carefully analyzed, fully thought-through interpretations that frequently show familiar works in a new light. This is not to say that her readings will be to all tastes. Quite the contrary: her latest CD of Liszt[‘s transcription of Beethoven’s] Ninth—the transcription over which Liszt labored longest and with the most misgivings—lasts almost an hour and a half, putting it at or beyond nearly all the symphonies by Mahler. In fact, the finale—which runs 32 minutes here—lasts nearly as long as Mahler’s longest single symphonic movement (the first movement of his Third Symphony). This…Beethoven for committed musicians who really want to understand the underlying skeletal framework of the composer’s final symphony, hear in great detail how the harmonies are built, how the themes relate to each other, how the careful choice of key structure seems to make the use of a chorus in the finale inevitable—a fascinating realization since, of course, there is no chorus in Liszt’s transcription. This is not at all an accessible performance, but it is one of great depth and intellectual rigor [8.571264–65].

Similarly, Biret keeps things slow and stately for the “Pastoral” symphony: she certainly has the power needed to bring forth the fourth-movement thunderstorm, but she seems more comfortable dissecting the second movement, “Scene by the Brook,” with such care that the usually flowing water seems positively stagnant. Biret pulls apart this music with tremendous care and understanding, but in so doing loses the forward momentum of the symphony as a whole. It is easier to appreciate this performance than to love it—but it is hard not to consider it revelatory. [8.571264–65]
Things are more straightforward in the “Emperor” concerto and Choral Fantasia [8.571261]. Biret prefers deliberate tempos here, too, but not to an inordinate extent. This “Emperor” has genuine majesty, with an especially expansive first movement that marches from start to finish with firmness and dignity. The magisterial approach continues through the second and third movements as well, with Antoni Wit and the Bilkent Symphony providing workmanlike support that keeps the focus on Biret while placing her dominance in a suitable context. In the Choral Fantasia…Biret’s control and ever-present understanding of the music are apparent and attractive, and the choral and orchestral sections complement her solo work very nicely indeed—leading to a rousing conclusion.

…Saint-Saëns’ final piano concerto, known as the “Egyptian” because the composer wrote it in Luxor and it reflects his impressions of Egypt and other areas to which he traveled, has stateliness and sweep in this performance, although the second movement, marked Andante, is a very slow-paced walk indeed. Biret does some particularly nice work with the jazzy finale—a rather forward-looking movement for 1896, especially considering the composer’s reputation as a conservative musical thinker. In Ravel’s G Major concerto, which dates to 1931, Biret pays close attention to the expressivity and nuances of the score…her top-notch technique stands her in good stead in the Presto finale. In the Concerto for the Left Hand, written in the same year, Biret’s intelligent and slightly cool approach brings out the score’s intricacies to fine effect, and the Bilkent Orchestra under Jean Fournet plays with understanding and a good sense of style—as it does in all three of these works. [8.571272]

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2009

With this two disc set we have completed Idil Biret’s much celebrated recording of Beethoven’s symphonies in piano arrangements by Liszt. Placed on disc in 1986, it forms part of the ‘Idil Biret Archive’ that will make available her recordings from a long career that began in 1949 at the age of 8 in the French Radio Studios. A landmark issue when first issued on the EMI Electrola label, the symphonies have since been recorded by others, though few pianists have taken up the challenge. As I have commented previously, you can hear the influences of Wilhelm Kempff in her Beethoven, the sense of the symphony’s structure paramount in her approach, passages taken in long-flowing spans yet always keenly observing the detailed dynamics. Her ‘Pastoral’ takes its mood from the name and observes the ‘molto mosso’ that is added to the Andante indication in the second movement. She does not exaggerate the storm scene and ends the work in a feeling of total repose, the final chords understated so as not to change the mood. By contrast the opening movement of the Ninth is of epic proportions, at times rather exaggerating rhythmic changes to emphasis the magnitude of the moment, the added weight that Liszt suggests in the score included though it proves a taxing show of virtuosity. The Scherzo is unhurried by comparison with today’s orchestral performances, while the following Adagio is quiet and at peace with the world. Then in a sheer explosion she opens a finale that contains passages of high drama and balances the weight she has brought to the opening movement. I admire the fact that she allows this finale to stretch her technique as she goes for the maximum possible impact, and as a whole this is a performance that is deserving of the highest approbation. I would suspect there was added reverberation, but the piano quality is very good even by today’s standards.

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10:20:43 PM, 29 April 2016
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