FRANZ LIZST 200th
Idil Biret’s Liszt recordings (1978 – 2011)
When Idil Biret gave her first concert in what was then the German Democratic Republic, at the East Berlin Festival in 1979, where she played Liszt’s works, including the Sonata in B minor, a glowing article appeared in the Berliner Zeitung:
"These festive days are get their best events from the visiting pianists. After the brilliant Liszt interpreter Lazar Berman, now another maestro of the piano, with a special affinity for Liszt made her debut in the GDR: Idil Biret from Turkey. Liszt’s exacting and always again sharply contrasting Sonata in B minor was mastered in all its nuances; the big upswings, the soft moments and the glitter of the passage play. The jubilant public found itself rewarded with an encore which in itself was nearly even more complex: a Tarantella by Liszt, performed with extreme purity and enormously dynamic staging."
This concert established Biret’s reputation in the GDR where she then played regularly throughout the next decade, performing, among others, with the Dresdner Staatskapelle, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Berliner Radio Symphony orchestras and in the most prestigious halls like the Schauspielhaus (now Konzerthaus) in East Berlin and Semper Oper in Dresden
Liszt’s monumental Sonata and Venezia et Napoli (Gondoliera, Canzone, Tarantella) from the second year of the Italian travels and the two Piano Concertos, all of which are included in this box set, had been on Idil Biret’s concert repertory from the earliest days. The other works on the eight CDs in this 200th Anniversary set entered her repertory gradually. Piano transcriptions of orchestral works had been a staple of pianists’ repertory in the 19th Century when these transcriptions also took the place of the modern phonograph record. But, this widely practiced art fell out of favour in the second half of the 20th Century. With the exception of Glenn Gould who recorded some of Liszt’s Beethoven Symphony transcriptions and Vladimir Horowitz who said he regretted not to have played them, pianists of repute lost interest in transcriptions and its was actually considered not to be "in good taste" to include them in recital programs. All this changed when, after a proposal from Ilhan Mimaroglu, who produced many of her records in New York in the 1970s, Idil Biret recorded Liszt’s piano transcription of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique which was released in the United States by Finnadar (Atlantic) and widely distributed in Europe by Warner in 1979. There were glowing press reviews on both sides of the Atlantic and Biret performed this work in concerts including New York, London, Paris, Munich, Milan and helped establish respect for the performance of piano transcriptions once again. A proposal then from George H. de Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a founder of the VOX Records and a fourth generation descendant of Felix Mendelssohn, led Biret to the recordings of 13 Schubert Song Transcriptions and 7 Wagner Opera Transcriptions of Liszt. She then went on to record Liszt’s transcriptions of the nine Beethoven Symphonies for EMI / His Master’s Voice for the Liszt Centennial in 1986 and performed them all in four concerts at the Montpellier Festival in France that same year (broadcast live by Radio France Musique). The eminent British critic Bill Newman, in remembering this release, later wrote:
"At the start of the BBC third Programme in the late 1940s I tuned in to the series of live performances of Liszt Transcriptions of the Beethoven Nine Symphonies…Thirty years went by before I spotted Idil Biret’s six-LP (EMI/HMV) box set prominently displayed in a London West End shop window. Was this just a superb feat of endurance by a lady pianist unknown to me, who had ventured to record all nine? The German-EMI imports implied special exclusivity; not so the performances and interpretations which were to open up new vistas of appreciation and understanding that would carry this artist into the regions of the internationally famous. Beside original works for piano and orchestra, vocal or choral forces (including so-called paraphrases and the many arrangements), the Liszt-Beethoven transcriptions were in a league of their own."
In the following years Idil Biret performed the Beethoven symphonies in concerts all over the world. These recordings (recently released again in Biret’s 19CD box set of the Beethoven Edition 8.501901) and the concert performances received glowing reviews in the press. Biret then went on to record piano transcriptions of other composers including Brahms, Rachmaninov and her mentor Wilhelm Kempff. These were mostly transcriptions of the works of Bach including the Chaconne by Brahms (for the left hand) and Chorals by Kempff. Then in the mid 1990s for a recital organized by Radio France Musique in paris at the Ancienne Conservatoire Hall (where Chopin, Liszt and Berlioz had performed) Idil Biret was asked to include in her program the 1837 version of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes (called Grandes Etudes). Liszt had composed three versions of these Etudes, the first in 1826, the second in 1837 and the final in 1851( called Transcendental Etudes). Almost all pianists perform the somewhat simplified 1851 version. The 1837 version, more difficult and in many ways more interesting of the three, became Biret’s preferred version which she started playing in her recitals. Finally, she recorded these Etudes together with the 1826 version (called Etude en 12 Exercises) and the Five Concert Etudes (including Gnpmenreigen and Waldesrauschen) in 2011 which are in this box set as well as the Grandes Etudes de Paganini (with the famous Campanella) that she had recorded in 1987. When the Liszt Sonata and the Paganini Etudes were released in 2010 Bryce Morrison, the veteran critic of the Gramophone magazine in the UK, wrote:
"Idil Biret’s new Liszt album prompts a reappraisal of her extraordinary talent…In her Liszt Sonata you will hear playing of a formidable power and assurance…There is no mistaking her lightning reflexes in the second of the Paganini Etudes and her vivo in the imitation sautille bowing of No 4 would make even Heifetz envious. Biret’s brilliant, iron-clad Steinway is well recorded and…in her Liszt, there is stunning proficiency and a forbidding manner very much her own."
200th In Germany Frank Siebert, writing in the Fonoforum magazine on the same CD reflected essentially the same thoughts in different words:
"Nearly a quarter century separates the two Liszt recordings of the Turkish pianist, who with the Paganini Etudes (1987) demonstrates what a brilliant virtuoso she was, and with the Liszt Sonata –recorded in 2010- shows that she still is. Further, her playing has gained a majestic depth and an expressive self-will, as the Sonata, an exploding testimony of Biret’s late style, exhibits. So, these recordings, very well prepared in respect of sound, are an important contribution to the Liszt year."
In 2011 Idil Biret also recorded Liszt’s transcription of Berlioz’s Harold en Italie (Rusen Güneþ playing the solo viola) and the the Paraphrase de Concert from Verdi’s Rigoletto and Wagner’s Tannhäuser Ouverture.
The Franz Liszt 200th Anniversary Edition, a box set of 9 CDs, contains the works of Liszt Idil Biret recorded between 1978 – 2011, including excerpts from the Beethoven Symphonies released separately in the Beethoven Edition. There is also a DVD with video recordings of her Liszt recital at the 2011 Istanbul Festival and a performance on Liszt’s piano in Weimar.