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MusicWeb International

John Sheppard

On piano sonatas (Vol. 1, vol. 4)

Sheppard is reviewing Biret’s Beethoven edition piano sonatas included  vol. 1 and vol. 4  in an article published by Musicweb International.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas: No. 1 in F minor Op. 2 No. 1 (1793-5) [24:42]; No. 2 in A major Op. 2 No. 2 (1794-5) [33:47]; No. 19 in G minor Op. 49 No. 1 (1797) [8:51]; No. 20 in G major Op. 49 No. 2 (1795-7) [10:03]
Idil Biret (piano)
rec. May, September 2002, Brussels. DDD
Idil Biret Beethoven Edition Vol. 1
IBA 8.571251

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas: No. 3 in C major Op. 2 No. 3 (1794-5) [27:10]; No. 5 in C Minor Op. 10 No. 1 (1795-7) [18:21]; No. 18 in E flat major Op. 31 No. 3 (1802) [23:34]
Idil Biret (piano)
rec. November 2001, Brussels, Belgium
Idil Biret Beethoven Edition Vol. 4
IBA 8.571254 [69:06]

According to the biography in the accompanying booklet, Idil Biret made her first recordings in November 1949 when she was eight. Since then she has recorded the complete piano works of Brahms, Chopin and Rachmaninov as well as many other things, including music by Boulez and Ligeti. 

The Idil Biret Archive has been set up to issue those of her recordings which are no longer commercially available and also new recordings. These two discs are part of her Beethoven Edition which will include all the Sonatas and Concertos as well as Liszt’s arrangements of the Symphonies. Both the Sonatas and Concertos are new recordings. The Symphonies were previously issued by EMI Classics.

I have already reviewed the first discs of the Concertos and Symphonies, both of which are well worth hearing, especially the latter. The sound on the present discs is fine to my ears, maybe due largely to the beautiful and clear tone that Ms Biret appears to be able to obtain in all of these recordings. Although she certainly commands the necessary power when Beethoven requires it, she does not use it in the crude or over-forceful manner that some pianists find necessary whenever they see the direction ff. Indeed one of her main characteristics is the variety of sound and articulation that she is able to command. This enables her to shape each movement with care revealing with great clarity the various extraordinary changes of character within movements.

Between them the two discs contain all three of the Op. 2 Sonatas, one each from Op. 10 and Op. 31, and the two smaller Op. 49 Sonatas. All but one date from no later than 1797 but most are far from slight pieces. With all the repeats taken, as they are here, the first two of Op. 2 last for about half an hour each - clearly no miniatures. I greatly enjoyed her ability to play the more Haydnesque sections in the kind of crisp and clearly articulated way which suits them and then to reflect the changed character of other parts of movements without losing a grip on their overall shape. This is playing of real insight. The highlight of these discs was Op. 31 No. 3, in which the kind of lightning switch demanded by the composer is perfectly caught. I should mention also that not only are repeats taken when asked for, but that they are used to make subtle changes in playing the same music so that it sounds fresh even when being heard for the second time. The presentation of the discs, currently only available separately, is plain but helpful, with useful notes by Bill Newman. 

An extraordinary number of pianists have recorded these Sonatas, some on two or three occasions. Rather than comparing the present discs with them, I had rather simply welcome them as the work of a deeply serious musician of obvious technical mastery and understanding of the music. They will give great intrinsic pleasure as well as providing the opportunity, for those who wish it, to compare them with the performances of her peers. This is not after the manner of a Beckmesser looking for faults but rather hoping to gain new insight from different solutions to the problems and opportunities that these works provide. You may or may not be convinced by every detail in these versions, but these are clearly performances which are the result of a very deep study of Beethoven’s text. The present discs are clearly the beginning of an important addition to the catalogue.
John Sheppard

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