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Michael Cameron
Fanfare, May 2009

These accounts of the concertos hold some real pleasures, and the interpretations seem well planned and delivered with a clear and consistently vibrant point of view. There is a tendency to make her points more emphatic than is necessary, as in the middle movement of the first concerto, where peaks of lyrical phrases are punched harder than is needed to make the contours clearly audible. This propensity only barely subtracts from what are otherwise insightful and poetic readings of the two middle movements.

The finales of the two concertos are the weakest movements. They are not lacking for energy or vision, nor do there seem to be any miscalculations regarding tempos or rubato. Instead there is a tendency for slight but noticeable deterioration in dexterity when the composer demands an extra bolt of speed or quick ornament. Perhaps worse is the tendency to compensate for these smudges by applying a heavy hand when a more fleet approach would suit the spirit of the music better. Contrasts are vividly etched, but excessive weight seems to impede the propulsive energy embedded in these concertos’ final statements.

The Bilkent Symphony Orchestra is new to me, and I am only marginally familiar with their leader, the Polish maestro Antoni Wit. Sometimes these partnerships suggest a hastily prepared vanity project, but the collaboration seems carefully and thoughtfully designed. Unanimity of ensemble is not as tight nor is wind intonation as pristine as in major ensembles, but Wit deserves kudos for the hushed, airy quality of sound he draws from his strings and woodwinds in quiet passages in the slow movements, and he shares Biret’s predilection for the lovingly molded phrase.

Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, May 2009

Biret has established her reputation largely on her complete sets of Chopin, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff—all fairly heavy-duty romantic fare. We don’t think of her as a classical pianist; and indeed, I expected her concertos to be on the romantic side of the classical/romantic divide. But they are quite classical in approach, and happily so. Her articulation is crisp and wonderfully clear, rhythm is firmly controlled, and extremes are avoided. As a result the playing is never pushed, either by excessive speed or wide dynamics. The moderate tempos allow lots of detail to come through, and we find once again the elegance and beauty of Beethoven, rather than his despair and drama. I found these readings very enjoyable…The Bilkent Symphony…in Wit’s hands they play musically, with a fine sense of style.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, March 2009

These new recordings of the first two Concertos of Beethoven are very good indeed. I have never been a big fan of these two works, preferring the three more mature Concertos, but Biret has made me listen to then afresh for her interpretations are alive and vital, she obviously doesn’t see them as early works, poor relations of the later pieces, but as part of a set. And not just the beginning of that set either, they seem to be more a continuation than a start.

The First Concerto starts with a bold tutti, Wit hits exactly the right tempo and sticks with it, indeed, his work compliments our soloist perfectly, and Biret’s first appearance is calm and poetic. What follows is a fine example of how to work in harmony with an orchestra, the give and take, drama and poetry are all there. This is so alive that it feels like a performance, one take as opposed to several takes stitched together. The slow movement was slightly heavier than I expected but Biret brought out the singing qualities of the music. I really enjoyed the finale, Biret seeming to bring out what I have always thought of as a music hall quality in certain passages, and it was quite riotous when necessary. This performance was a revelation to me for I had never enjoyed the music as much as here, perhaps Biret’s somewhat romantic approach helped.

The Second Concerto is a more classical work, lighter and more easy-going. Wit directs a slightly hard-driven opening tutti, and in this movement he sometimes seems too hard for some of the music which goes against Biret’s relaxed approach. The second movement contains some subtle playing from Biret; she employs a lovely colour to some of this music and her use of rubato is marvelous. The finale is playful and fun.

These two performances are well worth having even if the accompaniment to the Second Concerto isn’t as sympathetic or subtle as it is for the first, but it’s Biret you’ll want to hear and you won’t be disappointed with her pianism.

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.

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, February 2009

My introduction to the Idil Biret Beethoven Edition, which will eventually include all the Sonatas and Concertos, was the first volume of Liszt’s arrangements of Beethoven’s symphonies (8.571252). This was an immensely enjoyable disc which I can wholeheartedly recommend…Idil Biret is always a positive player. Without being fussy or intrusive, she is very much alive to the changing character of the music. Her playing in quiet passages is especially lovely. The slow movement of the First Concerto is taken at a speed which does not over-extend the musical phrases but manages nonetheless to sound unhurried. I am not convinced of all of her musical decisions—the alla turca section of the Finale to the First Concerto for instance lacks the kind of wildness that other pianists have brought to it—but her playing, above all her articulation and phrasing, is always interesting. Never for a moment did I feel that she was playing these works merely to complete a set of the complete concertos. This has sometimes been a problem with others where one feels that the soloist is really waiting for the last three works and has nothing individual to say about these two early works.

Despite my concerns over the recording, I obtained much pleasure from listening to this disc. Others may not be as bothered by the balance as I was, and even if you are Biret’s readings provide real alternative insights.

Laurence Vittes
Audiophile Audition, February 2009

With this release, Naxos has cemented its as major player in the big leagues. Not that they haven't recorded scores of great performances and recordings in a stunningly wide range of repertoire while filling in gaps in the international library of classical music…The performances are fresh and invigorating, gently sensual and spaciously paced. In some way, they are like the playing of Biret's mentor, the great German pianist Wilhelm Kempff, in that they are clear and unpretentious, yet conveying an underlying structure of delicate poetry which can rouse itself on occasion to surprising eloquence and power. Among the many attractions of her playing is how she brings Beethoven's cadenzas, which often sound pedestrian, to life with her attention to detail and genuine affection for each note.

Her orchestral partner is the leading Turkish Orchestra, which plays with a sense of subtle textural dimensionality rarely heard in the West. Her conductor is Antoni Wit who contributes a superbly probing and elegantly phrased musical embrace. The speeds are moderate and, with the sumptuous and yet very natural recording in which pianist and orchestra are always perfectly balanced, creates a synthesis between music and sound that allows Beethoven to speak directly to the listener. Once you have heard these performances, you will understand how great the range of his music is, and why so many different musicians respond to it in so many different ways.

This Beethoven series, under the auspices of the Idil Biret Archives in co-production with Turkey's national label Bilkrent Music Production (Bilkrent being an acronym of "bilim kenti," Turkish for "city of science and knowledge," referring to the capital of Ankara), will eventually comprise newly-recorded versions of Beethoven's complete piano sonatas and concertos, and high-quality remasterings of her recordings of Liszt's transcriptions of the symphonies (originally recorded by EMI).

Listening to the first two of her piano sonata discs, it is clear that she plays the solo music with the same qualities that make these two concertos so memorable, enough so to assure us that she will make each of the sonatas a personal journey of illumination. How she will play the other piano concertos, which are considerably different animals from the first two, exciting as they are, remains to be seen.

The liner notes by Bill Newman are themselves extraordinary, a compelling combination of scholarship and academic description of how the music works technically. Yet, at the same time they are filled with a deep human love for the music. Newman concludes:

"On the wall at the top of my staircase is a sepia sketch of Beethoven, his body hunched over the piano, eyes tight shut concentrating on playing one of his compositions. The hands show the fingers splayed, probably performing the closing chords to mark the end of the piece. The artist is probably unknown, his signature difficult to read. But I still treasure it." As I think you will treasure this disc.

Rad Bennett, February 2009

The results are absolutely excellent

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

If Wilhelm Kempff were recording a new complete series of the Beethoven Piano Concertos, I guess it would sound much like this first disc in Idil Biret’s cycle. That is no coincidence as she has been a lifelong disciple of his style of playing. Throughout there is a poetic freedom in the shaping of phrases and a feeling of fresh spontaneity in music that is totally familiar. Outer movements have that feeling of latent strength, tempos never rushed, but always with that felling of compelling forward momentum. Maybe Kempff would not have taken such a deliberate view of the central movement in the First concerto, where the lyric flow is at times held up while Biret explores the music’s innate beauty. As I comment on an earlier disc this month, Biret was also a Cortot pupil, and he instilled into her a desire to be herself, and though phrasing is in long spans, there are moments where the pulse is gently massaged to tease our ears and point new delights in familiar music. The finale of the First dances with youthful impudence, Biret’s nimble fingers bringing crystalline brilliance. Whereas I love this feel of unbounded joy, I am less sure of the breathless flourish with which she opens the final of the Second Concerto, though it balances a performance where the opening movement is rather more serious than in many hands. The rustic quality of the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra’s woodwind brings a period feel to the accompaniment, the distinguished Polish conductor, Antoni Wit, obtaining neat and well balanced playing. I look forward to the cycle’s continuation.

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