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James Harrington
American Record Guide, May 2011

excellent and quite enjoyable performances of the sonata along with good Liszt filler pieces. Biret’s Paganini Etudes constitute another major Liszt work…

The Idil Biret Archive, distributed by Naxos, has already supplied me many pleasurable listening hours. As copyright and licensing rights expire on other labels (she has recorded for 10) the grand plan is to assemble them here. 23 years separate her recording of the Sonata (2010) and the Paganini Etudes (1987), yet this fact surprised me since I noticed only a little difference in the sound quality. This is not just another recording of Liszt’s masterly sonata, but a mature, probing interpretation that doesn’t miss any incarnation of the main motives or lack the technical abilities to bring them out. It is a bit dry, and there are a few minor finger slips, lending it somewhat of a close-microphoned concert performance quality. If it were a concert recording, it would rank alongside the best I have ever heard (Earl Wild & Krystian Zimerman). I would [like] to know more about the recording circumstances. They list the venue as Bilkent Hall in Ankara (where Biret was born). A little searching on the internet finds reviews of a number of Biret’s performances at this hall, so it is a place she knows well. The Paganini Etudes were recorded in Brussels and offer a similar kind of interpretation and performance.

Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, April 2011

A record-breaking pianist turns to Liszt and shows no signs of lagging

With complete cycles of Beethoven, Brahms (including the 51 Exercises), Chopin, Rachmaninov, Ligeti’s Etudes and Boulez’s piano sonatas and with much more to come, Idil Biret seems destined to enter the Guinness Book of Records. But if there has sometimes been a suspicion of quantity rather than quality, her new Liszt album prompts a reappraisal of her extraordinary talent.

True, you will look in vain in her Liszt Sonata for the innovatory scope of Brendel (the reverse of, say, Pogorelich’s self-consciously “different” interpretation), the colour and nuance of Curzon or the liquid-fire brilliance of Argerich, but you will none the less hear playing of a formidable power and assurance. Her fugue is more pedestrian than concentrated but the pages before the valedictory coda, with its glassy sighs and veiled threats, take off like the proverbial rocket. She also storms the central Andante sostenuto’s climax with a vengeance, turning on the fiercest voltage. There is no mistaking her lightning reflexes in the second of the Paganini Etudes and her vivo in the imitation sautille bowing of No 4 would make even Heifetz envious. Biret’s brilliant, iron-clad Steinway is well recorded and if there are few poetic revelations in her Liszt, there is stunning proficiency and a forbidding manner very much her own., December 2010

LISZT, F.: Sonata in B minor / Grandes Etudes de Paganini (Biret Solo Edition, Vol. 1) 8.571282
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas Nos. 8 and 29 (Biret Archive Edition, Vol. 8) 8.571283

Fans of Turkish pianist Idil Biret, who may have been trying to keep up with the impressive number of her recordings being released on the IBA (Idil Biret Archives) label, now have yet another IBA series to appreciate—or contend with. And on top of that, an existing IBA series is complicating decision-making for listeners who may want to do something other than collect every disc that IBA ever releases. These are not bad problems to have: Biret is a wonderful pianist, with technique to spare and a thoughtful approach to the music she plays that, when it works well and does not interfere with a certain feeling of abandon and apparent spontaneity, produces top-notch recordings that show Biret to be a worthy successor to her mentor, Wilhelm Kempff. The two newest IBA releases are in fact among the label’s most impressive, for all that they may create some confusion among collectors.

What is new here is the Idil Biret Solo Edition, whose very first volume includes an outstanding performance of an exceptionally difficult piece, and one that Biret has clearly thought through to an unusually impressive degree: Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B Minor. More an extended tone poem than a sonata in a traditional sense, this half-hour work progresses through six movements (or six sections of one gigantic movement) with implacability and tremendous demands on the pianist’s technique. The recording here is the most recent released on any CD by IBA, dating to January 2010, and it shows that Biret, who is now 69, has lost none of her fervor or pianistic or analytical ability. Her Liszt performance soars: she tracks the multiple themes that permeate it with skill, providing it with overall structural integrity—so crucial in this work, which can easily get away from the performer if not held tightly in check. Biret emphasizes the unity of the sonata’s disparate elements, effectively bringing out everything from the uses and reuses of the themes to the fugal handling of part of the second theme—and she observes the work’s wide-ranging dynamics very impressively indeed. This is, in short, a performance that succeeds on all levels. Next to the sonata, the Grandes Etudes de Paganini seem almost slight—not in their virtuosic requirements, which are enormous, but in their musical content. Biret’s performance here, which dates to 1987, is not quite as impressive as her reading of the sonata, largely because her thoughtfulness is somewhat misplaced in a series of pieces that are all about display and unceasing virtuosity. These studies are on works as different—and yet as similar—as Paganini’s solo-violin etudes and the famous “La Campanella” finale of his second violin concerto. Liszt’s transformation of the pieces for piano is extremely clever and very, very difficult, and certainly Biret handles the technical demands here quite well. What the performance lacks is a certain élan, perhaps a touch of insouciance, as if it is no big deal to toss off all these fireworks. Biret’s pianism is nevertheless highly impressive, and the new Idil Biret Solo Edition is poised to be a real treat for her fans.

The Idil Biret Archive Edition, however, is now making things rather complex. The latest volume in this series, which is the eighth, includes two Beethoven sonatas recorded in 1985—one of which, the “Pathétique,” is already available in the Idil Biret Beethoven Edition, Volume 12, which in turn is the sixth volume of the sonatas in that edition (the numbering is more than slightly confusing). The Beethoven Edition reading of the “Pathétique” dates to 2006. The “Hammerklavier” has yet to appear in the Beethoven series but will surely do so in the future. Will listeners, even devoted Biret fans, want multiple Biret performances of the same music from different times, sold in different IBA series? This is not an easy question to answer, since the Archive Edition version of the “Pathétique” differs in several ways from the Beethoven Edition reading, but not to such an extent that a listener will likely feel the need to own both. The Archive Edition recording is speedier in all three movements, especially the first, and has a generally lighter feel to it than the Beethoven Edition one. Biret here clearly avoids an overly Romantic view of this sonata, keeping it expressive but within the bounds of Mozart and early Beethoven. The finale, in particular, trips along effectively. Neither of the two Biret recordings is better or worse—they are simply different, showing her somewhat different views of this music two decades apart. As for the Archive Edition version of the “Hammerklaivier,” it is very fine indeed. The huge sonata marches strongly from the start in Biret’s interpretation, and she manages to keep its sprawl coherent through her entire 46-and-a-half-minute performance—a most impressive achievement. The one movement that is a touch less successful than the others is the third, which Biret does not hesitate to take as slowly as its tempo indication of Adagio sostenuto indicates—but which tends to flag rhythmically from time to time, losing some of its admittedly slow forward motion. Nevertheless, this is a highly successful performance of a very difficult sonata, showing again—if additional showings are needed—that Biret and Beethoven go together very, very well.

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