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C. Michael Bailey
All About Jazz, February 2011

Turkish pianist and Naxos mainstay Idil Biret approaches her Beethoven from the Liszt-von Bulow side of things (where she dials down the Liszt flamboyance from 11 on a scale of 10 to a more manageable 4 or 5). Certainly Romantic, Biret nevertheless retains a classical precision manifested in her even articulation of the composer’s plan. Her tempi are uniformly slower than Schiff’s throughout the sonata, her total time 24:42 compared with Schiff’s 21:03. Biret makes good use of her added time to more fully flesh out the personality of the younger Beethoven.

Biret’s Allegro is paced in a determined manner with an even disposition. The Adagio is beautifully toned and ornamented at a tempo that makes Schiff’s sound hurried (Biret’s relaxed 6:16 versus Schiff’s brisk 4:21). She remains as relaxed during the Menuetto, her playing flowing effortlessly from one theme to the next with an almost anti post-Bach Glenn Gould approach, one with a light touch when necessary and never overbearing in the piano sections.

Like the remainder of the sonata, Biret’s finale is measured and precise, with no hint of rush. She is insuring a complete airing of the score so as not to miss one bit of inspiration. Her playing walks that thin line of proper propulsion against a lagging tempo. The middle section is thoughtful and pretty after the stormy introduction. Biret captures the tension in Beethoven’s writing that pits the cerebral against the emotional: a constant and pleasant anxiety that resolves very nicely in the coda. This is powerful and important early Beethoven.

Jens F. Laurson
Ionarts, June 2009

This sonata cycle is part of a Beethoven Edition that launched Idil Biret’s own label, Idil Biret Archive. It’s practically a sub-label of Naxos, the company that has brought her from relative obscurity to becoming a household name. The Beethoven Edition will include not only the sonatas and concertos but also Liszt’s Symphony transcriptions which are being re-released on CD for the first time since Biret took them down on LP for EMI in the mid-eighties.

Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, May 2009

Tempos are in the moderate range, but so firm is Biret’s control that they sometimes sound too deliberate. In spots calling for crystalline passagework (e.g. the opening and third movements of No. 2) she never disappoints with the slightest smudge or intrusion of pedal. Biret has wonderful rhythmic control, excellent musical instincts, and a gorgeous sound. Something, though, is missing on the first volume of sonatas. It is a sense of urgency, of risk-taking, of raw excitement. It seems churlish to complain about playing so self-effacing, so honest, so unexaggerated, so musical as this; but these sonatas—even these four relatively modest ones—are fiery summits in the literature and need to sound more important and more significant. Sonatas 19 and 20, the easy ones that everyone learns, are perfectly played but sound pedantic.

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, March 2009

According to the biography in the accompanying booklet, Idil Biret made her first recordings in November 1949 when she was eight. Since then she has recorded the complete piano works of Brahms, Chopin and Rachmaninov as well as many other things, including music by Boulez and Ligeti.

The Idil Biret Archive has been set up to issue those of her recordings which are no longer commercially available and also new recordings. These two discs [Idil Biret Beethoven Edition Vol. 1 - 8.571251, Idil Biret Beethoven Edition Vol. 4 - 8.571254]  are part of her Beethoven Edition which will include all the Sonatas and Concertos as well as Liszt’s arrangements of the Symphonies. Both the Sonatas and Concertos are new recordings. The Symphonies were previously issued by EMI Classics. I have already reviewed the first discs of the Concertos [8.571253] and Symphonies [8.571252], both of which are well worth hearing, especially the latter. The sound on the present discs is fine to my ears, maybe due largely to the beautiful and clear tone that Ms Biret appears to be able to obtain in all of these recordings. Although she certainly commands the necessary power when Beethoven requires it, she does not use it in the crude or over-forceful manner that some pianists find necessary whenever they see the direction ff. Indeed one of her main characteristics is the variety of sound and articulation that she is able to command. This enables her to shape each movement with care revealing with great clarity the various extraordinary changes of character within movements.

Between them the two discs contain all three of the Op. 2 Sonatas, one each from Op. 10 and Op. 31, and the two smaller Op. 49 Sonatas. All but one date from no later than 1797 but most are far from slight pieces. With all the repeats taken, as they are here, the first two of Op. 2 last for about half an hour each—clearly no miniatures. I greatly enjoyed her ability to play the more Haydnesque sections in the kind of crisp and clearly articulated way which suits them and then to reflect the changed character of other parts of movements without losing a grip on their overall shape. This is playing of real insight. The highlight of these discs was Op. 31 No. 3, in which the kind of lightning switch demanded by the composer is perfectly caught. I should mention also that not only are repeats taken when asked for, but that they are used to make subtle changes in playing the same music so that it sounds fresh even when being heard for the second time. The presentation of the discs, currently only available separately, is plain but helpful, with useful notes by Bill Newman.

An extraordinary number of pianists have recorded these Sonatas, some on two or three occasions. Rather than comparing the present discs with them, I had rather simply welcome them as the work of a deeply serious musician of obvious technical mastery and understanding of the music. They will give great intrinsic pleasure as well as providing the opportunity, for those who wish it, to compare them with the performances of her peers. This is not after the manner of a Beckmesser looking for faults but rather hoping to gain new insight from different solutions to the problems and opportunities that these works provide. You may or may not be convinced by every detail in these versions, but these are clearly performances which are the result of a very deep study of Beethoven’s text. The present discs are clearly the beginning of an important addition to the catalogue.

C. Michael Bailey
All About Jazz, March 2009

The quartet of sonatas offers a good example of early Beethoven in the hands of a master Romantic. Biret performs these pieces with an authority that recalls Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter, if not Richter's fellow Ukrainian Emil Gilels. This authority brims with technical competence and musical telepathy that presents the pieces with a regimented, yet appealing, beauty.

Biret lights the first sonata's (in F minor, Op. 2, No. 1) opening Mannheim rocket with a Molotov cocktail, detonating its energy and prerogative right off the mark. The notes march a determined course with an equally determined momentum that is almost militant. Given the F minor key, Biret plays the allegro as almost a march. The adagio is delicately cast as a brass monolith, not lacking warmth but giving none away. The A major sonata, Op. 2, No. 2 is bright and good natured, both characteristics well represented in Biret's performance of all four of the included sonatas. She often gives her left hand tonal authority over her right, further justifying her comparison with Horowitz.

Her performances of sonatas 19 and 20 are equally authoritative if not more spare and austere, particularly in the slower sections. This is playing that shows off experience and confidence. Originally written as piano exercises for Beethoven's family and friends, Biret infuses the Leichte Sonaten with equal importance and stature with their contemporaries, giving them a durable romantic varnishing. This inauguration of Biret's Beethoven sonata set suggests that an important Beethoven renaissance is underway.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, March 2009

When this massive Beethoven/Biret series is issued in full, it will contain 19 CDs housing the complete sonatas, piano concertos, the Choral Symphony and the symphonies (in Liszt’s transcriptions). It will be a worthwhile monument to keyboard aficionados and Beethoven mavens, for Biret (b. 1941) is one of the finest interpreters of the composer’s works of her generation, as these discs certainly attest.

The symphonies here were recorded in 1985–86, and the performances overall are quite excellent [8.571252]. Many have questioned the need to ever hear these great works on the piano, even if Liszt’s transcriptions are well crafted and about as fine a keyboard realization as one could hope for. Well, the symphonies obviously sound better in their native orchestral dressing, but if a listener desires to hear them in a different way, Liszt’s reduction is excellent and Biret’s interpretations are totally convincing. The First Symphony brims with subtleties of phrasing, from the inquisitive opening chords to the rambunctious humor of the Menuetto to the all-conquering joy of the finale. Biret’s reading of the Second is similarly convincing, and she catches the greater depth of the work, expanding the music’s sense of scope and subtlety, imparting an almost orchestral air to the proceedings. The sound in both works is excellent, fully competitive with the best piano recordings of today.

The sonatas here were recorded in 2001–02. The first disc here [8.571251] features the Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 (Op. 2/1 & 2), and 19 & 20 (Op. 49/1 & 2), which are all early works, despite the numbering of the latter two. They were written roughly in the period 1793–97. Biret catches their youthful humor and joy, as well as their darker moments. Volume 2 of the sonatas [8.571254] features Nos. 3 (Op. 2/3), 5 (Op. 10/1) and 18 (Op. 31/3). Again, Biret finds Beethoven youthful side with a deft sense in the Third. #5 is well played, too, but #18, with its contrasts of the ponderous and the playful in the first movement, is the real gem here. I love this sonata and Biret’s performance is about as fine a one as I’ve heard. The sound on both sonata discs is vivid and powerful.

The Concertos here are newly recorded (2008) and competitive with many of the better pairings of Nos. 1 & 2 available [8.571253]...Biret’s performances are excellent and full of deft insights throughout. She generally plays with a fairly muscular tone but can soften on a dime to a delicate pianissimo. Polish maestro Wit leads the ensemble with a sure hand and the sound is close and vivid in both concertos, with perhaps a bit too much reverberation.

All in all, these four discs augur an excellent introduction to what will probably be regarded as one of the more important Beethoven keyboard projects of the early-21st century. Recommended.

James Manheim, March 2009

Turkish pianist Idil Biret has embarked on a Beethoven cycle (sonatas, concertos, and symphony transcriptions) to round off her prolific recording career, with numerous small pleasures among the results. They are of the quiet kind. It was said that Beethoven broke many of the pianos he played as a young virtuoso recently arrived in Vienna, but it would be hard to imagine Biret breaking an instrument or even a string. Movements with a lot of forward momentum, such as the finale of the Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2/1, presented here, are taken in a very deliberate way. This said, her readings are thought out to a deep level of detail, and, though shaped by those of her mentors Kempff and Cortot, create an entirely distinctive effect. Biret keeps close control over texture, with lots of attention to details in the left hand, and her basic orientation is toward melody and lyricism. The result in these early sonatas is a relaxed feel that brings the music close to Schubert’s piano sonatas, written when he was the same age as Beethoven was when he composed these works. Despite the abundance of subtle motivic connections in her playing, Biret never becomes intellectual in her approach, with the opening movement of the Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 2/1, turning into a delightful chase of the hands around the keyboard. There is often a sprightly, even playful spirit in her performances. Biret’s approach to repeats is curiously inconsistent: in the opening movements of the first two sonatas here she follows the unorthodox procedure of repeating both halves, but in the Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2/3 (recorded on a different disc in the series) she plays the second half of the opening movement only once. That sonata, it’s true, features a sudden eruption of Beethoven’s original thinking about the dimensions of sonata form, but even in the two easy sonatas recorded on this disc, the Piano Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49/1, and Piano Sonata No. 20 in G major, Op. 49/2, she leaves the second half of the opening movement unrepeated. In the Piano Sonata No. 2, which has a sizable development section in the opening movement, her thinking is a bit hard to understand. The slow movements of both the first two sonatas, however, which sink many performances of these works are lovely in Biret’s hands. They begin circumspectly (a trait of Biret’s playing in general) and take some patience to get into, but the listener is rewarded by glistening, hypnotic halls of sound as they develop. In all, this disc inaugurates a major statement from a pianist who represents some of the most thoughtful traditions of twentieth century Beethoven playing.

Michael C Bailey
All About Jazz, February 2009

Beethoven's cycle of piano sonatas represents a classical triple point for pianists. There have been many fine cycles recorded—Artur Schnabel's recordings from the 1930s (Naxos Historical, 2002-2005), Jeno Jando (Naxos, 1994), Daniel Barenboim (EMI, 1998 and Deutsche Grammophon, 1999), Vladimir Askenazy (Decca, 1997), Wilhelm Kempff (Deutsche Grammophon, 2002), Richard Goode (Nonesuch, 1993), and Alfred Brendel (Phillips, 1996), among many, many others.

In recent times, two interesting cycles have emerged. Andras Schiff on ECM and Idil Biret on Idil Biret Archive (distributed by Naxos) stand comparison in this complementary series to The Beethoven Symphony Series.

Jed Distler, January 2009

Idil Biret launches her own label IBA (Idil Biret Archive, distributed by Naxos) with the first of 19 CDs devoted to Beethoven's piano sonatas and concertos, plus her 1980s Beethoven/Liszt symphony cycle originally issued by EMI on vinyl only. Her way with the early sonatas on this disc often resembles her mentor Wilhelm Kempff: the clipped articulation and use of the sustain pedal for coloristic emphasis, along with keen attention to bass lines and inner voices.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

The first release in the complete recordings made over a period of forty years by the distinguished Turkish pianist, Idil Biret, and which will cover eighty reissues together with a number made specially for this archive. Embarking on a solo career at the age of 16, Biret had studied in Paris, Nadia Boulenger and Alfred Cortot being among her mentors. The years that followed had seen Biret presented with many awards, including the Distinguished Service Order from the Polish Government and the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite in France. Her recordings, for a number of labels, received universal critical acclaim, and she became the first pianist to place on disc the complete works of Frederic Chopin. Temperamentally her performances follow more in the footsteps of Cortot than Boulenger, her passion and love of the work that she is playing at times almost boiling over or lingering while she fully explores its beauty. This first disc initiates the  complete Beethoven sonatas and points to the side of her character that embraces scholarly rectitude, and is strict, for instance, in her observance of the ‘Grazioso’ indication to her unhurried Rondo of the Second Sonata. Maybe the second movement of that sonata, Largo appassionato, is overly severe in character, though she generally takes a very sunny attitude to these early works. She is certainly not alone in some personal phrasing throughout the disc and brings to our attention some interesting revelations. In order to minimise the number of discs required, the couplings will not be in chronological order, the well-filled disc completed with two short sonatas that, despite their numbering, are quite early works. There is much here that engenders eagerness to hear the full cycle. The sound quality is good, though the disc sleeve does not explain why recordings made in 2002 are only just surfacing.

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