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John Sheppard (İdil Biret / Concerto Edition 1 / Beethoven Edition 8 - 9 )

Hearing these three issues in succession from the continuing Idil Biret Archive gave me a much clearer idea of the musical character and strengths of this prolific and wide-ranging artist.

She is clearly a very serious artist. The range of her repertoire - including Boulez, Brahms, Chopin and Beethoven - tells us that already. She is unafraid of presenting the music without additional surface charm but with great strength and immense technical assurance. The two concertos for instance tend to be slower than is usual nowadays but benefit from carefully chosen and appropriate relative speeds and subtle variation of tone. As with another artist notorious for slow speeds, at least in his later years - Klemperer - there is considerable gain in the resulting ability to articulate the music more clearly. For this reason it can in fact sound much faster than it actually is. There is indeed a freshness about these performances which I found very attractive and which prevents the music from ever sitting down on itself, as can happen at times in these works when heard in unsympathetic hands, especially the Schumann. There is a very happy partnership with the orchestra. Even if you have many existing versions of this popular coupling there is much to be said for adding this to your collection as a very worthwhile alternative.

The other aspect of Ms Biret's playing is the beauty of her tone, and her ability to create an intricate texture, clarifying the musical argument. This applies especially to the symphonies, which I found mesmerizing, but it can be found in each of the discs. There is no empty virtuosity here, rather a display of the inner workings and character of each movement which is worth hearing no matter how well you think you know the music.

In the old days of 78s, HMV artists were divided into red labels and plum labels - sheep and goats. Public perception tended to follow that division, often unfairly to such artists as Moiseiwitsch who tended to be regarded as inferior just because they were on the "wrong" label. A similar perception may have applied to Ms Biret in the past. I hope that her continuing archive will demonstrate that she is a formidable player and artist whose performances well deserve to be preserved in this way.

I look forward eagerly to the continuation of her distinguished series of the Beethoven/Liszt Symphonies in particular but all of these discs are well worth hearing.




















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