Wednesday, 29 July 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2015)

Idil Biret Archive 8.501402 (14 CDs) 

The Turkish pianist Idil Biret (born 1941) was a child prodigy student of Nadia Boulanger, Alfred Cortot and Wilhelm Kempff, those combined tutelage nurtured an artist of catholic tastes, phenomenal versatility and uncommon technique. This box-set brings together all her LP recordings (on five different labels) dating from 1959 to 1986, including works by Chopin, Brahms and Schumann to the Second Viennese School and the avant-gardeists.

Among the latter is Turkish-American composer Ilhan Mimaroglu's Session, an aleatoric work with pre-recorded taped sounds dedicated to Biret, of which this 1976 recording is the definitive performance and entity. The composer had expressly forbidden any further performances or recordings (even by Biret herself) ever again. Her command of other 20th century works by Berg, Webern, Boulez, Scriabin, Bartok, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Miaskovsky has also much to recommend.

Of the mainstream repertoire, Rachmaninov's Corelli Variations and Moments Musicaux, Brahms' Handel and Paganini Variations, and Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit reveal a virtuosity that has been underrated. The best sound is to be found in Liszt's transcriptions of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and Beethoven's Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, where her command of orchestral sonorities on a single keyboard have to be heard to be believed.  

BRITTEN Piano Concerto
BARBER Piano Concerto
London Symphony / Emil Tabakov
Decca 478 8189 / ****1/2

This is a most logical coupling, the only piano concertos by the most revered 20th century composers of England and America, who happened to be close contemporaries and good friends. There were many parallels with Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and Samuel Barber (1910-1981), in terms of their shared love for vocal music, use of dissonance and lyricism in compositions, and alternative lifestyles. Britten's Piano Concerto (1938, revised 1945) was a slick and bold work of a young man, while Barber's Piano Concerto (1960-62) was borne of maturity and experience.

Both have loud and percussive pages but are tempered with passages of songlike wistfulness. While Britten's strong suit is wit and humour, Barber draws on the extremes of violence and nostalgia. The performances by Korean-American pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe, one half of the famous Anderson & Roe piano duo, are elegant, incisive and often insightful, even if the recorded sound possesses a softer edge than some of her rivals. Her pair of encores are well-chosen, contrasting Barber's Nocturne (Hommage to John Field) with Britten's Night Piece (Notturno). This is wonderful programming coupled with playing of trenchant brilliance.      

No comments: