Idil Biret Concerto Edition, Vol. 3 = SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major, Op. 103 “Egyptian”; RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G Major; Piano Concerto in D for the Left Hand – Idil Biret, piano/Bilkent Symphony Orchestra/Jean Fournet
IBA022 [Distr. by Naxos] 8.571272, 74:56 ****:
Turkish pianist Idil Biret (b. 1941) has established her own Idil Biret Archive (IBA) that preserves as many of her inscriptions as possible through former recording contracts with Pantheon, EMI, Marco Polo, Alpha, Vega, and this–taken from the BMP label archives, 1996 (Ravel D Major, 15 February), 1998 (Ravel G Major, 10 February), and 1999 (Saint-Saens, 9 February). All three concertos were recorded in the Bilkent Symphony Hall, Ankara, Turkey. Despite the common thread of February in these concerto performances, the ambiance remains quite warm, opening with an electric and leisurely “Egyptian” Concerto in collaboration with the late Jean Fournet (1913-2008), who had made a magnificent version with Magda Tagliaferro for Philips in 1955. Glitter and acrobatic elegance, the eternal requisites for Saint-Saens, a perfect bravura vehicle for Biret. The always exotic Andante movement proceeds with an African flair quite sultry and atmospheric in the manner of a Muezzin call to prayer, the rising and falling fourths mixed with sinewy cadenzas. A touch of jazz syncopation informs the frisky last movement, Molto allegro, the progressive dark crescendos notwithstanding. The sheer panache and digital authority Biret brings to this exuberant work guarantees the price of admission.
The jazz idiom opens with a resounding smack in Ravel’s 1931 G Major Concerto, the colors in glissandi and pointillist octaves rampant. Biret keeps the keyboard singing and light, the studied tempos reminiscent of those set by Vlado Perlmuter and Jascha Horenstein in their classic Vox rendition. Wonderfully wrought staccati and octave runs from Biret as the horns and winds groups play syncopated passagework a la ragtime. The expressive passages carry as much delectable savoir faire as the fioritura escapades. Harp and bassoon add their fair share of color prior to the blaze of blues that wah-wah into the melodic contour. Gershwin himself would applaud this fiery first movement. The E Major Adagio proceeds in a serene and stately ¾, soon evolving into a country serenade with flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, soft-hued French horn. Biret’s high extended trill on B leads to an explosively colorful Presto, a real onslaught of jazzy strides. A kaleidoscopic circus rules in the last movement, the squawking irreverent winds, brass and battery intent on having the keyboard part lose itself in flippancies.
Ravel’s Left-Hand Concerto retains its power to shock and arrest, the contrabassoon taking us through a harmonic labyrinth that more often than not involves Dionysiac rites. Biret keeps the left-hand part fluid and active, always creating the effect of two hands in concert with wood-block, tam-tam, four horns, and harp and an assortment of colors in tempo and rhythm. The huge Lento section cascades with thundering cadenzas, then sings with brass, strings, and tympani to a climax that itself tumbles into a combination of lyrical or martial pageantry and motley sarcasm. A gorgeous cadenza, all bells and points of light, beguiles us until the waves of stamping energy swallow us whole. Quite a thrilling ride!