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John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, October 2009

BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4 (Biret) – Nos. 23, 28, 31 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 8) 8.571258

BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies (arr. F. Liszt for piano), Vol. 3 (Biret) – Nos. 7, 8 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 9) 8.571259

SCHUMANN, R.: Piano Concerto / GRIEG, E.: Piano Concerto (Biret Concerto Edition, Vol. 1) 8.571270

Hearing these three issues in succession from the continuing Idil Biret Archive gave me a much clearer idea of the musical character and strengths of this prolific and wide-ranging artist. 
She is clearly a very serious artist. The range of her repertoire—including Boulez, Brahms, Chopin and Beethoven—tells us that already. She is unafraid of presenting the music without additional surface charm but with great strength and immense technical assurance. The two concertos for instance [8.571270] tend to be slower than is usual nowadays but benefit from carefully chosen and appropriate relative speeds and subtle variation of tone. As with another artist notorious for slow speeds, at least in his later years—Klemperer— there is considerable gain in the resulting ability to articulate the music more clearly. For this reason it can in fact sound much faster than it actually is. There is indeed a freshness about these performances which I found very attractive and which prevents the music from ever sitting down on itself, as can happen at times in these works when heard in unsympathetic hands, especially the Schumann. There is a very happy partnership with the orchestra. Even if you have many existing versions of this popular coupling there is much to be said for adding this to your collection as a very worthwhile alternative.

The other aspect of Ms Biret’s playing is the beauty of her tone, and her ability to create an intricate texture, clarifying the musical argument. This applies especially to the symphonies [8.571258 and 8.571259], which I found mesmerizing, but it can be found in each of the discs. There is no empty virtuosity here, rather a display of the inner workings and character of each movement which is worth hearing no matter how well you think you know the music.

In the old days of 78s, HMV artists were divided into red labels and plum labels—sheep and goats. Public perception tended to follow that division, often unfairly to such artists as Moiseiwitsch who tended to be regarded as inferior just because they were on the “wrong” label. A similar perception may have applied to Ms Biret in the past. I hope that her continuing archive will demonstrate that she is a formidable player and artist whose performances well deserve to be preserved in this way.

I look forward eagerly to the continuation of her distinguished series of the Beethoven/Liszt Symphonies in particular but all of these discs are well worth hearing.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, September 2009

Idil Biret brings to mind Glenn Gould, in her omnivorous and largely successful series of all of Beethoven’s piano works: solos, concertos and transcriptions—a truly amazing achievement. Her depth of understanding the style and intent of the music is idiomatic and truly amazing—not to mention a dazzling technique. Hats off!

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, June 2009

The Beethoven symphonies in Liszt’s deft piano arrangements have received some noteworthy performances in the past from Cyprien Katsaris, Naxos’ own Konstantin Scherbakov and others. So, performances of them on recording aren’t so rare. You’ll almost never encounter them in the recital hall, though. With this disc we are near the end of Biret’s cycle, which was actually recorded in 1985–86. In her previous issues in this series Biret has tended toward the epic and monumental in her approach. That is much in evidence in her rendering of the Seventh, where tempos are rather slow and fortes powerful. Biret takes 45:53 in this work, where Karajan in his third cycle of the Beethoven symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic, took less than 33:00! Admittedly, I’m comparing a conductor at one extreme to a pianist at the other, but at least that gives you an idea of what to expect from Biret. She takes the first movement introduction very deliberately, a once common approach to this music by conductors. But it comes across as overly ponderous. She’s no doubt alert in pointing up crucial detail here and elsewhere, though, as well as in conveying Beethoven’s sense of the monumental. But this symphony is about dance and rhythm, isn’t it? Her approach may be valid to many, but it’s just a bit heavy-handed for my tastes.

Biret’s Eighth is better and closer in spirit to the work’s mostly light character. Her tempos are generally well-chosen, if once again, a bit on the slow side. The sound in both symphonies is clear and powerful.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

The third disc in Idil Biret’s complete piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies contains the finest account of the Seventh yet placed on disc. I will not go over the ground covered in my January review column, apart from restating that Biret feels Franz Liszt made many compromises and additions to Beethoven’s original creation and now a performer can, with justification, also make their input. The Seventh’s opening movement is a highly charged reading with a thunderous final section; the following Allegretto is relaxed and beautifully paced to contrast with Biret’s hectic scherzo and slow central trio. The finale dances along with suitable gusto, an approach that continues through into the opening movement of the Eighth. Here the jogging tempo for the scherzo works well, and if some find the Minuet leaden footed before we embark on a charming finale, she compensates with the tinkling right hand filigree. You do feel that the writing is testing Biret’s technique which has the effect of adding to the feeling of excitement. First released on EMI in the 1980s, the transfers to CD are good and realistically capture the power in the lower octaves.

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