American Record Guide
, September 2010
It is difficult to find another musician who is as versatile as Idil Biret. Her repertoire, extremely varied, comprises all epochs of piano music; and she has the ability, the perseverance, and the courage to venture into areas seldom covered by other pianists (Liszt’s arrangements of Beethoven’s and Berlioz’s symphonies). At the same time she performs the standard repertoire, giving all of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas in consecutive recitals—an undertaking usually reserved for specialists.
The program at hand belongs to the former group, music usually played only by die-hard avant-garde musicians. It includes works written from 1959 to 1975, when composers were exploring the new possibilities of working in a sound studio and experimenting with electronic music. This can be heard not only in the electronic sounds employed in the compositions, but also even when the composer restricted himself to traditional techniques. Another common trait is the pursuit of the question of determinism versus chance. And investigating the different approaches these composers take, and the results they arrive at, is rewarding and enlightening. The liner notes by Ilhan Mimaroglu are essential for that, unless one has a score. They give us not only biographies of the composers and the performer, but also hints about the structure of the music.
Archipel IV by André Boucourechliev, for example, is notated on one large sheet of paper and leaves the performer considerable freedom about the order of the different sections. Idil Biret’s interpretation emphasizes extreme dynamic contrasts; and she manages to create not only transparent textures and amazing atmospheric effects, but also overwhelming sound masses with clusters without making the piano shriek and cry.
Cangianti by Niccolo Castiglioni starts more exuberantly than the previous composition, with exciting fast figures in all ranges of the piano. The middle part, however, has rests that are only occasionally “interrupted” by a tender chord or a brutal cluster. Later a melodic line tries to develop, but it is always interrupted by an arabesque. Although the texture becomes a little thicker as the piece draws to a close, the hesitant character with its pauses and spontaneous interjections persists. In the convincing interpretation by Biret it makes for thrilling 10 minutes. Here the pianist’s creative contribution is essential too, as the composer gives the performer opportunity to shape and invent certain sections.
Sonata Pian e Forte by Leo Brouwer employs prerecorded music in addition to the pianist. He uses pieces from different eras and juxtaposes them with his own composition. We hear quotations of Beethoven’s Appassionata, a Scriabin sonata of the performer’s choice, and the Sonata Pian e Forte by Gabrieli. But the recording is not really convincing. It leaves a rather chaotic and arbitrary impression, and it’s difficult to find an artistic reason for this pattern. The composer suggests the following additional possibility: the quotations could be treated as interpolations between the original music; a temporal separation would give the listener opportunity to appreciate the contrast between the styles. The interpreter is given a lot of freedom in the choice of the prerecorded music, and there is also plenty of improvisation and graphic notation.
A completely different approach is shown in Ilhan Mimaroglu’s Session. It constitutes a unique case, as the recording is considered the “performance” and the piece is NOT to be played again. Other pianists are forbidden to play it (even Idil Biret is not supposed to perform it again), and a public performance of the piece would have to be a playing of the record. This is the farthest a composer has gone to determine a performance. The piece is full of quotations, both musical and literary. We hear, among others, a speaker reading the legal agreement between a record company and an artist, a receipt, and transcripts from telephone conversations. Often three conversations are going on at the same time; but they are constantly fading in and out, so that a certain transparency is preserved. Writings by Marx are cited together with quotations from Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude. And electronic sounds are mixed with original music by Mimaroglu and Wagner (Tristan).
In contrast to Leo Brouwer’s work, the work exhibits a complex, but still understandable structure, so that the listener’s mind is constantly torn between associations of traditional music and newly composed works, and between musical and literary perception. It’s an intellectual tour de force, but whoever can keep his concentration will feel like he’s been on an artistic roller-coaster ride. This attack on the limits of our capabilities of perception gives the term “multitasking” a new meaning. The composition closes, very appropriately, with the lines: “And then the present will dominate the past.”