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See latest reviews of other albums..., September 2011

The most interesting release yet in the Idil Biret Archives edition of the Turkish pianist’s performances from the 1970s until today, the two-CD compilation of Biret’s rendition of two Liszt arrangements of works by Berlioz is fascinating on almost every level. Biret is remarkably in control, perhaps a touch too much so in the final movements; likewise, in the waltz of Symphonie fantastique, a little more rhythmic swing would have been welcome. But these are minor matters in an overall recording that is exemplary. Biret brings out Berlioz’ themes and rhythms to fine effect…The entire achievement is a remarkable one, both musically and in terms of pianistic virtuosity: Biret’s performance is worth hearing again and again, no matter how familiar the listener already is with Berlioz’ original. And her reading of Harold in Italy is almost as good. The Liszt adaptation here is a particularly interesting one because Liszt, who created little in the way of chamber music, includes the solo viola for which Berlioz calls in the original work. Ruşen Güneş gives a finely tailored performance of music that Liszt sometimes lifted essentially intact from Berlioz, sometimes modified slightly to bring out one effect or another. Interestingly, the viola, which can tend to be subsumed into the orchestra in most Harold in Italy performances (because the work is not really a concerto but a symphonic piece with viola obbligato), comes through more clearly here, its role in the story more forthright and Berlioz’ writing for it more transparent with only the piano accompanying it. This Harold in Italy never really sounds like chamber music—the piano is the lead instrument throughout—but the balance between Biret and Güneş is admirably handled, both players are well in tune with both Berlioz and Liszt, and the overall effect of hearing Harold in Italy in this form is nothing less than exhilarating.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2011

Two recordings from either end of Idil Biret’s distinguished career, the 1978 recording of the Symphonie fantastique having gained legendary status. She had already placed the work in her concert repertoire at a time when the big Liszt transcriptions had become unfashionable, and among her appearances around the world she had given a highly acclaimed account of the score in New York. It was there that it was recorded for the ill-fated Finnadar label, the disc sleeve recalling the critical acclaim the disc received on its release. Berlioz was not all that pleased by Liszt arranging his music, as at times he created the spirit of the orchestral score rather than a facsimile of Berlioz’s notation. The Symphonie fantastique was a massive challenge to the stamina and dexterity of the pianist, though in the central Scene aux champs it does offer a period for the soloist to regather strength. It is also at that point where pianists have to retain audience attention deprived of Berlioz’s orchestral colours. Here the March to the Scaffold omits Berlioz’s repeat before she embarks on the fiendish difficulties of the score’s final pages. In previous Biret releases made for Finnadar the CD booklet recalled experiments of ‘straight from the microphone to master disc’, but here we are not informed whether this was the case. Whatever the method Biret’s accuracy in pages black with notes is very commendable. For the second disc we have the later of the two versions Liszt made of Harold in Italie, this score included a part for solo viola that extends its role past that in the orchestral score. It will divide opinion as the result often comes close to a work for solo viola with piano accompaniment. It is here played by Rusen Gunes, for many years the principal of London’s Royal Opera House, the London Philharmonic and BBC Symphony orchestras. The re-mastering of the Finnadar disc is so successful that there is little difference in piano quality between the two discs, the second dating from earlier this year.

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