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See latest reviews of other albums..., July 2009

Biret’s way with the “Eroica” is fascinating. She starts the opening movement so slowly that it seems there will be no forward momentum at all, but it turns out that this is merely Biret’s rather intellectual approach to the work being put on display: she is at pains to bring out all Beethoven’s lines (which Liszt reproduced with considerable care), even at the expense of some of this symphony’s drama. The second movement is also taken at a very slow pace—it runs 20 minutes—but it actually comes across better than the first, as Biret expertly builds each section while keeping part of her attention on the overall structure. The third and fourth movements are, in contrast, comparatively light—a flaw not of Biret but of Beethoven, if it is a flaw at all. Biret handles the contrasts well in both, and the very end of the finale is a real triumph of virtuosity. But there is a certain coolness to Biret’s interpretation of these movements, as if she has given her all to the symphony’s emotional heart, the funeral march, and now falls back on a certain distancing—a characteristic that she brings to many of her performances of these Beethoven transcriptions.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2009

Back in the 1980’s EMI issued this complete recording of the Liszt transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies and it became one of the great piano achievements of the time. In this reissue it comes as part of a large collection bringing together the complete recordings of the distinguished pianist, Idil Biret, made over a period of forty years. Born in Turkey, her solo career began at the age of 16, Nadia Boulenger and Alfred Cortot being among her mentors during her studies in Paris. Recordings for a number of labels reached her crowning achievement when she placed on disc the first cycle of the complete piano works of Fryderyk Chopin. Today we view the concept of the Beethoven transcriptions with a degree of musical awe, though for Liszt it was a way of offering greater access to music by a composer who had yet to receive universal acclaim. Biret’s view of the ‘Eroica’ is one of monumental proportions, the sheer strength she brings to the opening movement only achieved by technical brilliance. Spacious in the Marcia funebre, the scherzo is equally unhurried and reminds just how fast the tempo has become in recent orchestral performances. The finale points to Beethoven’s use of slender writing that depends on instrumental tonal qualities, and for all of Biret’s embracing the cause and making a big and virtuoso final coda, you are left thinking that this is a transcription more intended for pianists to enjoy. Her playing has been outstanding throughout, and though the tone is rather brittle at the extremity of the treble clef, it is at least the equal of her more recent releases.

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