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Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, October 2009

This is the fifth CD in Biret’s traversal of Beethoven’s complete piano works. I found her interpretation of the Waldstein particularly impressive. Musical memory can be rather subjective, but I cannot recall ever hearing a more satisfying recording of this masterpiece.

Jed Distler, April 2009

Idil Biret’s slightly clipped, intimately scaled, thoughtfully detailed Beethoven playing yields some fine performances, abetted by dry yet clear and agreeable sonics. While Biret takes Op. 10 No. 3’s first movement at a little less than a true Presto, the music flows forward by virtue of her biting accents and occasional subtle animation of pulse (the second subject, for instance). By contrast, she convincingly plays the Largo as an Adagio, imbuing the heavy left-hand chords with a sense of the long line, while eloquently spacing the right-hand cantabile. The fluid, graceful Menuetto and humorously timed Rondo abound with character, color, and lightness of being. Biret brings clear, forthright fingerwork to the Waldstein, but little bravura or nervous energy (her basic tempo for the Rondo slightly but noticeably broadens over time). Happily, she serves up the little Op. 79 sonata’s rude dynamic shifts, playful cross-rhythmic manipulations, and disarming melodic qualities to near perfection. I also should mention Bill Newman’s excellent, informative booklet notes.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, April 2009

In my initial overview of this series, I covered the first two volumes of the sonatas [respectively, Nos. 1, 2, 19 & 20 (8.571251) and Nos. 3, 5 & 18 (8.571254)] and the first volumes of the concertos [Nos. 1 & 2 (8.571253)] and the symphonies [Nos. 1 & 2 (8.571252)]. All performances were fine.

As I mentioned in that review, the concertos in this series [8.571257] are newly recorded (2008), while the other works were previously issued. These three sonatas [8.571256] were recorded in May, 1994 and the symphonies in July, 1985. To describe Biret’s approach to Liszt’s transcriptions of the symphonies [8.571256] , I think it’s fair to say that her adagios and andantes tend to be slower than usual, while her allegros, if not up to consensus speeds, are generally spirited. She probes deep in the slower movements and slower moments: try her opening in the Fourth, where there is a heightened sense of mystery, and her second movement, which features a lovely lyrical flow at the expense of underlying momentum.

Biret’s Fifth features a first movement tempo that goes contrary to her generally lively allegros: here she is weighty and dark, especially in her treatment of the famous opening motto, which takes on an ominous character. The second movement, at 14:08, is definitely on the slow side, but all is darkly atmospheric, almost as if this music is a close cousin to the funeral march in the Eroica. For as slow as her tempo is here (which I doubt would ever work in an orchestral performance), it is quite compelling, with the big brass proclamations sounding glorious and triumphant on the piano and providing brilliant contrast to the otherwise dark mood.

Biret’s third movement tends toward the epic, while her finale is triumphant and festive. Overall, she gives the listener more probing, less driven accounts of these symphonies. Everything is well thought out to the tiniest detail and Biret’s technique is fully up to the Lisztian demands. The sound is close and clear.

If Biret’s symphonies are a bit less lively than what one might expect, her sonatas brim with life and vitality. The 7th features a perky opening Presto, an infectious, bouncy Menuetto and a lively, playful finale. The second movement Largo is appropriately brooding and intense. All in all, a fine performance.

The famous Waldstein Sonata gets a splendid reading here. The first movement is thrilling and dramatic, and the finale gloriously triumphant. There is an obvious mistake at 2:25 in the finale, but I admire Biret for leaving it in: why do a retake when the performance is so utterly compelling?

The short #25 sparkles with energy and joy in the outer movements, while the inner Andante finds Biret infusing the landscape with a necessary sense of momentum. All in all, this volume of sonatas, which also features fine sound reproduction, must rank highly on anybody’s chart.

That same clarity, attention to detail and deft sense for drama are in evidence in the performance of the concertos. If Alfred Brendel is lean and classical in his several Beethoven cycles, and Schnabel is driven and intense in his, Biret is monumental, dark and probing. In general her tempos, while well within standard ranges, are a bit more relaxed than those of most other pianists. Her dynamics are well judged, but tend to favor fortes more than pianos. Her accents can be strong: try the opening moments of the finale of the 3rd, where she often puts weight into bass notes or punctuates key rhythmic points with extra power. Her first movement is muscular and epic, with judicious pacing and intelligent phrasing.

Biret’s 4th is also epic, but has an attractive playfulness in the first movement, which contrasts well with the more serious music: the concerto opens with the same famous motto presented in the Fifth Symphony, but here it is less vehement. The second movement is appropriately dark and the finale joyous and grand. Again, Biret brings out much detail, and phrases the music intelligently throughout. The Bilkent Symphony, comprised of university and professional musicians from Turkey and a dozen other countries, plays well…Antoni Wit conducts with a knowing hand, and the sound is vivid and powerful. Biret’s cycle of concertos may well go down with the finer recorded efforts, including those of Alfred Brendel.

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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

My touchstone in a Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle is the ‘Waldstein’, and if that captures my attention, the remainder is worth listening to, and from the opening tempo Biret certainly gripped my attention. Don’t expect the barnstorming account we hear from today’s young lions of the keyboard, Biret does not command that powerhouse approach. Yet she plays the quiet moments with a restraint that gives the more dramatic outbursts their full measure of excitement. Turn back to my column in the January issue for an introduction to the whole series, this release being the third disc. It begins with the Seventh Sonata, Biret giving the impression of a conversation between two people, one animated, the other gentle yet fervently sincere. But the sonata really succeeds or fails on the approach to the third movement, Biret choosing not to bring the desolation many find, and her final Rondo dances happily. Your sampling point would be the clarity of busy fingers in the opening to the ‘Waldstein’, where the clarity of her playing is outstanding, the crispness linking the music with Mozart to a greater extent than in most of today’s performances. The disc is completed by the Twenty-fifth, one of the shortest of the sonatas, but also one of the most intrinsically happy scores. I like the fact that Biret does nothing to enhance its basic simplicity, but just makes it as a pleasant experience.

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