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CD Review

Idil Biret Archive Edition 2

Idil Biret, piano
Naxos 8.571275
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This release is part of Naxos' Idil Biret series, which includes all the Beethoven piano sonatas and concertos, as well as the symphonies in Liszt's transcriptions, the Liszt, Schumann and Grieg concertos and much else. Naxos had earlier released Biret's complete sets of the Brahms, Chopin and Rachmaninov piano outputs. All of her recordings attest to her imaginative and profound interpretive insight and to her powerful and all-encompassing technique. Few pianists possess her innate talent and amazingly broad repertory. This CD showcases that repertorial eclecticism, with works by three totally disparate composers.

Biret delivers the two Chopin Mazurkas with deft sensitivity, fully capturing the dark and sad moods of the Op. 17 in A minor and the brighter world of the Op. 56 in B Major. The weirdness and ethereality of Scriabin's last sonata rise in mists and surges, and simply mesmerize the ear and mind in this brilliant performance. There is an Impressionistic feel to the music here, with vague scenes of fantasy-like matter, or of otherworldly origin.

The two Prokofiev sonatas would generally be considered the most substantive items here. Biret gives the opening theme of the 2nd a sort of spastic treatment with little hesitations, as if imparting a sense that the music is reluctant to descend to the lower regions. The main theme and its variant are played sensitively and the development section is powerfully rendered. The ensuing Scherzo is both menacing and humorous here, a perfect mixture. The dark Andante begins rather briskly but settles into a weightiness of imposing character, Biret delivering a most convincing reading. The finale is joyous and playful here, the pianist once again deftly capturing the spirit of the music.

The Prokofiev 7th, the middle of the three so-called "War Sonatas", is given an epic treatment by Biret. While the opening of the first movement may be scaled down a bit – actually showing more fleetness than percussiveness – the main theme emerges with an oppressive darkness and the development section that follows conveys anger and monumental ferocity. The Andante caloroso second movement is consoling in the main theme and tense and restless in the middle section – all in all, nicely played. Biret gives the finale a truly epic character: the sense of anxiety in the main theme is brilliantly conveyed, and at the end the rush of notes comes on with crushing force, as if the hard-won victory (it is victory, isn't it?) arrives with a mixed-blessing finality.

The sound of these performances, all originally recorded via the direct-to-disc process by Finnadar in 1976, is quite vivid and powerful. To those unfamiliar with the term "direct-to-disc", let me say it was a short-lived state-of-the-art recording process that required the artist to perform in one take. Thus, in many ways, these performances are like a live concert. In any event, I strongly recommend this latest Biret CD.

Copyright © 2010, Robert Cummings