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Classics Today
Direct to Disc (Archive Edition Vol.2)
by Jed Distler
(10 May 2010)

In the late 1970s a handful of audiophile-aware labels experimented with direct-to-disc technology, bypassing the analog tape machine and feeding the recorded signal directly to metal parts on a disc-cutting lathe, just like in the 78 rpm era. No splicing or inserts were possible; an entire side had to be cut in one continuous take, including pauses between pieces or movements, in real time. Nerve-wracking for all, no doubt.

The first direct-to-disc release by a classical solo pianist, recorded in 1976 for the short-lived New York-based Finnadar label and reissued here, featured the young(ish) Idil Biret, who must have had nerves of steel. Obviously she relished the challenge, because she's on tip-top form.

The Chopin Mazurkas are freer, more "inner voice" heavy, yet somehow more flowing and poetic than in Biret's relatively "straighter" digital remakes in her complete Naxos Chopin cycle. The Scriabin sonata's pulverizing accents and long chains of trills may not explode to the rafters à la Horowitz or Ashkenazy, yet the performance's subdued half-tints and dynamic hairpins gently pin your ear to the wall. The Prokofiev Second abounds in supple virtuosic aplomb in the outer movements, dance-like wit in the Scherzo, and glowing melodic projection in the Andante.

The Seventh sonata did not figure in the original direct-to-disc LP, yet I warmly welcome its inclusion. Biret's rhythmic spring and insightful left hand/right hand interaction refreshingly underline the composer's often overlooked lyrical gifts, allowing the motoric finale lilting room as it builds toward the galvanic final pages. A few moments of rushing at the outset (remember, direct-to-disc allowed no corrections) are insignificant, as is the unusually high level of room tone in the original recording. Biret's Finnadar output is uniformly excellent, and I look forward to further reissues.

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