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Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, October 2009

Biret sprints eagerly through every virtuoso obstacle in Op 2 No 3 (the not so “little Waldstein”)

Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, May 2009

Here there is real fire in the belly, and the quicker movements are really fast and exciting. The scherzo and finale to No. 18 and the finale to No. 5 (C minor) are all sparkling in their clarity, and all of No. 3 is as fine as I’ve ever heard it. I can’t explain why this disc sounds vital and the other sounds a bit prissy, but I would venture that these are better pieces.

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.

--Review by John Sheppard, MusicWeb International, March 16, 2009

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. There are many pleasures of a quiet kind among the results. The brash young Beethoven is said to have destroyed pianos when playing some of these early works. Biret isn’t even going to break a string, but the precise articulations and motivic connections revealed in her performances are dramatic in their own way. She focuses especially in details on the left hand. Biret doesn’t immediately reveal her conception of a movement’s shape, and the slow movements, especially, tend to begin very circumspectly. But focus on the small details, and she will draw you in. An especially good example is the slow movement of the Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10/1, a work that is often treated as a kind of warmup for the “Pathétique” Sonata and doesn’t get its due. The music begins plainly enough, but in the central section it deepens into an almost mystic repose of the sort often associated with the later works. The passage raises expectations for Biret’s forthcoming performances of the late sonatas; although she has thus far grouped early sonatas with other early ones, she seems to be resisting the usual periodization. The performance of the Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2/3, is very strong, with a fine sense of how the later parts of the first movement seem to explode with sudden invention. The Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat major, Op. 31/3, is very laid-back, as the lingo goes, but this is interesting in itself; Biret is finding the innovation in early Beethoven in places other than the usual ones. In any event, except for those who definitively envision the young Beethoven as loud and abrupt, this is a recording that will reward multiple hearings.

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.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, January 2009

The fourth in Idil Biret's complete traversal of the piano works serves to reinforce this listener's earlier impressions: she is a greatly gifted and precocious Beethovenian, able to plumb the depths of the master's style, and technically brilliant in execution, if only she could avoid certain mannerisms, such as occasional excessive staccato, totally uncalled-for. She could not have learned to play in this manner from her teachers Boulanger and Cortot. The audio quality is more than adequate, but not quite the full-bodied richness found in other recordings of the same music.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

Idil Biret’s second disc in the sonata cycle shows that she is not following the well-trodden path of so many of her predecessors where one style is made to fit all of the sonatas. Scholarly rectitude is here blown away in the opening Allegro con brio of the Third where passion takes over, and without finicky attention to details she sweeps the listener along. The second movement comes as a respite before her playful scherzo leads back to the brilliance of the opening with a lively Allegro assai taking us happily through to the end. Though in three movements, the Fifth is one of the shorter sonatas, and here Biret is initially more restrained, but takes the finale at its face value as a genuine Prestissimo. I love that feeling of wistfulness she brings to the opening of the Eighteenth, ‘a young girl lost in dreams’ is the picture she paints. The following scherzo has a youthful vivacity I miss in most recordings, while in the following Minuet Biret is capricious. Maybe not quite the ‘con fuoco’ Beethoven asks for, but the finale is suitably lively, the whole disc having the feel of youthful spontaneity. It augers well for the following albums, but why has this peculiar disc numbering system been adopted?

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