Idil Biret (piano) Archive Edition 11 – plays works of SAYGUN, FRANCAIX, ALKAN & BALAKIREV – IBA

by | Dec 27, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Idil Biret Archive Edition 11 = SAYGUN: Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 34; 12 Preludes to Aksak Rhythms, Op. 45; FRANCAIX: Piano Sonata; ALKAN: Le chemin de fer, Op. 27; BALAKIREV: Islamey – Idil Biret, piano/ Orchestre Colonne/ Adnan Saygun – IBA 8.571288, 76:04 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Turkish virtuoso Idil Biret (b. 1941) performs, from 8 August 1958, the premier in Brussels of the Saygun (1907-1991) Piano Concerto No. 1, taken from mono acetate discs. Saygun combines his training at the Schola Cantorum with Vincent D’Indy with his native Anatolian roots, which have been clearly cross-fertilized by Bela Bartok’s keyboard-concertante style. The first movement passes through a series of tempo and key signatures: it presents a tripartite sonata-form in often uneven rhythmic groups, the textures thick, often dissonant, and melancholy, easily reminiscent of the Bartok Concerto No. 1. The lyrical cadenza relieves some of the agonized tension of the movement, but not for long, as Biret has to negotiate leaden block chords, presumably with the heel of the hand.
The slow movement, Andante con moto, has the piano set against expressive woodwinds in modal harmony. The recitativo element clearly points to Bartok’s “night music” concepts. The strings eventually raise a darkly chromatic melody over the keyboard ostinati and concertante figurations. After an extended sostenuto sequence, the original material returns, eerie, moody, and suggestive of a night-vision by Giorgio di Chirico. The final movement, Allegro assai, presents a bravura toccata for piano and orchestra, bearing aggressive, virtuosic hallmarks of Liszt, Ravel, and Bartok. The whirling dervishes of sound gain potent momentum, while the broken figures in the keyboard more than once refer to Ravel’s D Major Concerto for the Left Hand. The last pages bring a resonant peroration to the proceedings to which the live audience responds enthusiastically.
The 12 Preludes by Saygun derive from a 1970s tape recorded by Biret in Ankara. They were composed in 1967 and dedicated to Biret. Bartok would have referred to these pieces as “Bulgarian rhythms” in his Mikrokosmos. Each prelude lasts between one to three minutes: the designation aksak means “limping” and takes its source from Turkish folk music. Like Bartok, Saygun experiments with uneven metric divisions of 3+2 or 2+2+3 or 2+2+2+3 to achieve 5/8 or 7/8 or even 9/8. The No. 4 caught my ear in its singular intimacy and angular beauty, not far from Scriabin or Ligeti. Prelude No. 5 bears one of the few marked designations, here “Pesante” for a heavy-footed and obsessive folk dance that ends in strange space. No. 6 “Molto vivo” clearly gives an etude for wrist articulation and sustained dynamics by way of Bartok’s Allegro barbaroNo. 7 Moderato and Molto vivo might derive from  Gershwin idea, except it becomes lost in its own weirdly percussive world. Some tape interference creeps into the recording at this point.
The longest prelude, No. 8, bears no tempo marking, and gives us compressed, discrete  tone clusters a la Webern. No. 9 Presto returns to the toccata ethos, much in the manner of Prokofiev or Khachaturian, again infiltrated by tape noise from an orchestral concert. No. 10, which demands a quiet intimacy, suffers from tape interference, but it might be the loveliest of the set. No. 11, brief as it is, makes a jazzy bagatelle. The final prelude, Vivo, nods once more to Bartok and to the Prokofiev Toccata.
Jean Francaix wrote his eight-minute Sonate pour piano in 1960 and dedicated it to Idil Biret. She plays the piece, recorded in stereo, from a concert in Baden-Baden. The breezy first movement, Prelude: Allegrissimo, reminds me of Liszt’s Grand Galop chromatique. The music is in A Major and written in 7/4. The D Minor Elegie allows Biret’s playing to sing, like lovely teardrops shed by Piaf. The whirlwind Scherzo in choppy syncopations leads to a final Toccata: Allegretto, a “rainy” piece that looks nostalgically back to Debussy but exerts its own brilliant momentum, bringing to a bitter-sweet close a neo-Classical work of pearly charm.
Charles-Valentine Alkan composed his Le chemin de fer in 1844, a tribute to the dynamic power of the railroads, an early precursor of Honegger’s Pacific 231. Essentially a seven-minute toccata, the piece stresses independence of the hands much like any Chopin etude or bravura prelude, especially the B-flat Minor. The constant bass ostinato sounds like a war-paint drumbeat from a savage tribe, while the right hand applies some whirling figures atop it. Then the bass line supersedes the upper line, and we then reverse again. The mounting fervor increases but Biret (from 1998 Katowice in good sound) does not derail, and the brilliant odyssey comes to a safe depot, announced by bells and whistles. This piece could serve as a jury trial any day of the week. Biret passes with special merit.
Lastly, Balakirev’s own contribution to the “toccata” complex: his 1867 oriental fantasy Islamey. The live performance by Biret is from Lille, 1993, in stereo with some pre-echo. In its lyrical moments, Biret quite mesmerizes with his exotic languor and added grace notes. The color-mix becomes nothing short of ravishing, and we must bow to Biret as a supreme colorist of the Cziffra caliber.  By the final page the tigress has either torn us to shreds or made us her slaves. The sound restoration by Mark Obert-Thorn has resuscitated damaged originals into hearty documents of historic significance.
—Gary Lemco

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