BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos 1 and 2 (Idil Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 3) – Idil Biret, piano/ Bilkrent Symphony Orchestra /Antoni Wit – Naxos

by | Feb 1, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos 1 and 2 (Idil Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 3) – Idil Biret, piano/ Bilkrent Symphony Orchestra /Antoni Wit – Naxos 8.57253, 67:38 *****:

With this release, Naxos has cemented its as major player in the big leagues. Not that they haven’t recorded scores of great performances and recordings in a stunningly wide range of repertoire while filling in gaps in the international library of classical music.

This new project, however, is a step up in the sense that they are giving a performer the full star treatment that Naxos’s founder Klaus Heymann has decried since the beginning and maintained as a policy more or less unswervingly ever since.

The performances are fresh and invigorating, gently sensual and spaciously paced. In some way, they are like the playing of Biret’s mentor, the great German pianist Wilhelm Kempff, in that they are clear and unpretentious, yet conveying an underlying structure of delicate poetry which can rouse itself on occasion to surprising eloquence and power. Among the many attractions of her playing is how she brings Beethoven’s cadenzas, which often sound pedestrian, to life with her attention to detail and genuine affection for each note.

Her orchestral partner is the leading Turkish Orchestra, which plays with a sense of subtle textural dimensionality rarely heard in the West. Her conductor is Antoni Wit who contributes a superbly probing and elegantly phrased musical embrace. The speeds are moderate and, with the sumptuous and yet very natural recording in which pianist and orchestra are always perfectly balanced, creates a synthesis between music and sound that allows Beethoven to speak directly to the listener. Once you have heard these performances, you will understand how great the range of his music is, and why so many different musicians respond to it in so many different ways.

This Beethoven series, under the auspices of the Idil Biret Archives in co-production with Turkey’s national label Bilkrent Music Production (Bilkrent being an acronym of “bilim kenti,” Turkish for “city of science and knowledge,” referring to the capital of Ankara), will eventually comprise newly-recorded versions of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas and concertos, and high-quality remasterings of her recordings of Liszt’s transcriptions of the symphonies (originally recorded by EMI).

Listening to the first two of her piano sonata discs, it is clear that she plays the solo music with the same qualities that make these two concertos so memorable, enough so to assure us that she will make each of the sonatas a personal journey of illumination. How she will play the other piano concertos, which are considerably different animals from the first two, exciting as they are, remains to be seen.

The liner notes by Bill Newman are themselves extraordinary, a compelling combination of scholarship and academic description of how the music works technically. Yet, at the same time they are filled with a deep human love for the music. Newman concludes:

“On the wall at the top of my staircase is a sepia sketch of Beethoven, his body hunched over the piano, eyes tight shut concentrating on playing one of his compositions. The hands show the fingers splayed, probably performing the closing chords to mark the end of the piece. The artist is probably unknown, his signature difficult to read. But I still treasure it.”  As I think you will treasure this disc.

– Laurence Vittes

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