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Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, October 2009

The Second Symphony in particular is given with real imaginative delicacy and never more so than in the Larghetto where she weaves her way through every elaboration with an unfailing calm and poise.

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.

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.

Rad Bennett, February 2009

…the Liszt transcriptions…come across as marvels. Without sacrificing lyricism, Biret plays in a secco, dry style (light on the sostenuto pedal), and the scherzos and final movements of both symphonies crackle with such energy and good cheer that one scarcely misses the orchestra. The interpretations are irresistible, and the recorded sound has singular presence…on those symphonies, she’s the cat’s meow, with few, if any, peers.

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, January 2009

Recently I have had two discs for review which managed to say something fresh and interesting about of Beethoven’s symphonies—works which can seem over-recorded. They were Sir Henry Wood conducting the Eroica on Beulah and the Tafelmusik Orchestral under Bruno Weil on Analekta in 7 and 8. Now comes this superb disc of Liszt’s transcriptions of the first two symphonies which I find to my surprise goes even further in terms of sheer musical interest.

These recordings were originally issued as part of a set by EMI but have now been reissued in a series which will include all the piano sonatas and concertos together with these transcriptions. I have not come across them before but am now greedy to hear the rest. Ms Biret says in her notes that the greatest compliment one could pay the interpreter of a symphonic transcription would be to tell them that it sounds just as if the original had been conceived for the piano. That is precisely the effect we have here. The careful weighting of chords, articulation of individual lines and avoidance of mere hammering away in the loudest passages together result in a complex whole that is at once wholly pianistic and a faithful translation of the original into another medium. The start of the Second Symphony is a good example of this. It is very slow and every chord is carefully weighted and placed. The overall effect is riveting, especially as the texture becomes more complex but its various parts remain clear. What was a glorious orchestral texture has become in these marvellous transcriptions and this imaginative performance pure piano music.

The recording is comfortable and realistic and the notes—by Bill Newman and Ms Biret - are full and helpful. The first movement repeats are omitted in both Symphonies (see note*).

You may well feel that you have enough recordings of these symphonies in your collection, but I nevertheless urge you to listen to these as a complement which will make you go back to compare them with the originals and to marvel yet again at these extraordinary works and also at Liszt’s recreative genius.

*Note from Idil Biret: On the question of the repeats mentioned by Mr. Sheppard; the repeats were omitted in some cases because these recordings were made for LP production and time limits had to be observed. I have performed all the repeats in the sonatas' recordings.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

The second disc in the Idil Biret archive was first released by EMI in the 1980s and brings the first in a cycle of the Franz Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s complete symphonies. I recall at the time the impact the set made, many critics discovering a ‘new’ virtuoso tackling a monumental undertaking. Today we forget that the great German composer did not receive universal acclaim in his lifetime, and it was left to his dedicated champions, which numbered Liszt, to plead his continued cause. That could be served by giving those without orchestral access the opportunity to experience his symphonic music in piano transcriptions. In remaining as true to the original scores as possible, he still had to write it in pianistic terms with the changes it entailed. That fact suggested to Biret that she could, with justification, add modifications she believed would take the transcriptions even closer to the original. As the accompanying sleeve note enumerates those changes I will not dwell on them, apart from commenting that Biret’s performances capture the scale and shape of Beethoven’s creation in a way that I find totally satisfying. At the same time I would add that the weight and textural density of these two symphonies are the most easily transcribed of the whole cycle, and where there is drama, Biret is never wanting. I equally delight in her vivacious mood at such points as the scherzo of the Second symphony and the tenderness of the slow movement.The sound quality was not remarkable for the 1980s, but will not disappoint.

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