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James Manheim, March 2011

Turkish pianist Idil Biret’s Beethoven Edition, very much a summation of her life’s work, has been consistently strong but has kicked into a higher gear with her readings of Beethoven’s later sonatas. This album, Vol. 9 in the series, maintains the usual virtues of Biret’s playing: precision, clarity, and the ability to translate structural insight into fully realized performances. Biret was a student of Wilhelm Kempff and has carried his legacy forward into the present time. All this said, she has made some original points in these recordings, which isn’t easy to do in the realm of late Beethoven. Consider the final set of variations in the Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, perhaps the apex of Beethoven’s entire keyboard output. The tempo relationships among the variations have been interpreted in various ways, but Biret’s solution is unusual if not unique. After a relatively fast statement of the theme, she maintains the quick tempo all the way through the fourth variation, passing through the jazzy syncopations of the third variation without dwelling on them. That fourth variation, with its extremes of register, is taken at the same speed, with the low-note passages very carefully articulated to clarify their relationship with the original theme. The zone of triple trills that follows, in many performances the center of the entire work, becomes a striking but temporary decorative detail. Then, and only then, does Biret broaden the tempo, feeding all the energy into the final material and turning it into a big coda. It’s all coherent, with plenty of sheer keyboard power, and free of self-conscious intimations of transcendence, which is absolutely essential listening for lovers of this sonata. The finale of the Piano Sonata No. 26, in E flat major, Op. 81a (“Les Adieux”), is also a standout in the set, with the finale extremely evocative of the excitement of reunion depicted in the work’s program. In the Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, Biret avoids the Romantic, Mendelssohnian qualities of the opening movement with a straightforward reading that seems to deflect attention to the finale but then follows it with a sharp, rather violent interpretation of the Scherzo. Nothing is even close to formulaic here, and these are Beethoven readings that will reward many repeated hearings with the discovery of new layers of detail. Brief booklet notes are in English only.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

So we come to the penultimate disc in a highly stimulating complete recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas from the Turkish-born, Idil Biret. You will read in my previous reviews a summary of the life of a pianist who came onto the international scene while still in her young teenage years. Now over fifty years later she is overseeing the reissue of her large catalogue of recordings, adding some new releases as in the case of this sonata cycle. It is pertinent to remind ourselves that, as a pupil of Cortot, she has moments of impetuosity, the Thirtieth sonata’s second movement being a moment in question. She was also a disciple of Kempff, and we have his thoughtful musicianship reflected in the Twenty-sixth, Les adieux, sonata. Indeed the sadness of that sonata’s second movement, L’absence, is one of the most beautiful performances I have encountered on disc. It is also all too easy to overplay the work’s title, though Biret steers an unfailingly tender and unsentimental path through the score. Likewise in the troubled music of his final sonata, she plunges into those rugged fugal passages of the opening movement with an impact that is devoid of angst, and keeps the wide mood changes of the finale within a lucid whole. Elsewhere we find the crystalline quality that has characterised the whole series, and in these 2004/5 sessions we have a close recording that contributes much to the clarity of unfailingly accurate fingers.

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