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Scott Morrison, Idil Biret Edition: Beethoven/Liszt, Vol. 4 (Audio CD)

Truthfully, I didn't expect much from this recording. As someone who has struggled himself to play this Liszt transcription of the Eroica Symphony, I know what pitfalls are in it. So I was completely won over by Idil Biret's playing, to my surprise. I had not been so impressed with her playing of the Seventh Symphony transcription and I guess that colored my expectations. 

Liszt manages to keep almost everything in the orchestral original in his transcriptions, including some knucklebusting figurations and counterpoint. Biret gives the first movement an exciting reading and even manages to convey the mysterious atmosphere of the false horn entry leading into the recapitulation. But the most amazing thing about this performance is Biret's playing of the second movement, the Funeral March. Most pianists speed it up just a bit in order to maintain the movement's harmonic tension while sustaining its line; the piano is, after all, a percussion instrument whose ability to sustain a cantilena takes real art on the part of the pianist. Not only does Biret manage this, she makes real music of it. The movement takes right at twenty minutes, very similar to the timing of orchestral performances. Amazing! Biret plays it very much as if it were the slow movement of one of the late sonatas (although it anticipates those movements by almost twenty years). I found the emotional tension of her playing here is every bit as involving as that of a great orchestra. 

The performances of the third and fourth movements are equally good, if not quite as great as music qua music. It is interesting to hear the piano version of the fourth movement, built as it is on the same theme from The Creatures of Prometheus that Beethoven had used earlier in his so-called 'Eroica Variations' for solo piano. This release has been, for me, the highlight so far of the Biret recordings of the Beethoven/Liszt symphony transcriptions.

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