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See latest reviews of other albums..., October 2010

The highlights in the latest Idil Biret Archives release are this very thoughtful pianist’s treatment of the very different works of three 20th-century Russian composers. This interesting but brief Biret recording—most of it originally issued by the short-lived Finnadar label in 1980, with the result that the CD, like most LPs of 30 years ago, lasts only three-quarters of an hour—offers an unusual chance to hear significant works by Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881–1950), whose music is still not often played outside Russia. His Sonata No. 2 predates the Russian Revolution; No. 3 postdates it. No. 2 includes repeated use of the Dies Irae that was to permeate the works of Rachmaninoff (and that had been used throughout the Romantic era since Berlioz’ day). Both the sonatas are, in effect, extended first movements, yet they sound complete in themselves, and Biret handles them with strength and her typical thoughtfulness. Her playing of Scriabin’s Five Preludes is also especially good, with a fine sense of balance and texture. The Liszt pieces fit rather oddly here, being nicely enough played but not especially distinguished; they were in fact not on the original Finnadar release and were recorded in 1978, a year earlier than the rest of the music here. As for the Rachmaninoff showpiece in C-sharp minor, while certainly well performed, it lacks a bit of the fire and drama that it can have in a somewhat less controlled and more abandoned performance. Nevertheless, this latest entry from the Biret archives continues to prove, if proof were still needed, that the Turkish pianist has both intelligence and technique to spare, and a willingness to tackle both familiar works and ones that remain distinctly unusual.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2010

We have now reached the latter part of Idil Biret’s ten year relationship with the American record label, Finnadar, and she was well into her thirties. My previous reviews have given details of her young career, so suffice it to say that she was a prodigious young woman who became a pupil of Nadia Boulanger at the Paris Conservatoire and later with Alfred Cortot. Aged sixteen she began her international stage career, and now, at the age of sixty-nine, we are revisiting her long list of recordings reissued to create a complete archive. This release not only demonstrates her outstanding technique, but adds to the catalogue her performances of Nikolai Myaskovsky’s seldom played sonatas. They date from 1912 and 1920 and bridge the gap between Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, predating the years when he became a tool of the Soviet regime. Muscular in structure, short, and shaped in one movement, they would have been modern and experimental at the time of composition, Biret moving around the changing moods with a firm structural unity. The two Liszt recordings were never issued, though the performances and recording do full justice, and I love Biret’s lazy pulse for the Lugubre Gondola. Scriabin’s brief Preludes capture the composer in abstract mood, his musical sympathies in this score being with the Second Viennese School. By contrast Rachmaninov’s popular Prelude comes as an ‘encore’, Biret providing the power to make an imposing statement. The sound quality for the late 1970s is amazingly good.

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