V 6: Idil Biret Beethoven Edit
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"Hear Idil Biret immersed in the music, at her sparkling best in the finale of the 4th Symphony-there you have a mirroring of the classic Josef Krips/Concertgebouw reading."Hi-Fi News"Idil Biret has recently recorded Liszt' transcriptions of Beethoven' ni
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I imagine, from having heard Cyprien Katsaris's recordings of all the Liszt transcriptions, that the most effective parts of Liszt's versions are the slower movements, the gentler movements as in, say, the Pastoral. This applies as well to the rather gentle Fourth Symphony which Biret plays to great effect. She manages the intricacies of the counterpoint in the slow movement with virtuosity that does not call attention to itself, the mark of a good musician. The same is true in the Fifth's third movement. Inevitably the Fifth's finale comes in for some rather hackneyed tremolos and octaves that make one wish the full orchestra were playing; Liszt, of course, was making these transcriptions at a time when most people had not heard all the symphonies in orchestral performance; his performances of them -- he originally made them for his own concert use; these are not suitable for amateur pianists by any means -- were often their only chance at exposure to Beethoven's symphonies. Thus, he had little choice but to use those tremolos and octaves, and one has to make allowances for that. Still, it is for this reason -- in these days of innumerable recordings of the orchestral originals -- that I've given this CD four stars rather than five. Considered from the perspective of the quality of the performances, though, Biret's playing would warrant five stars. And you probably can't beat the budget price if you're interested in having these transcriptions in your collection.
Liszt took a great deal of care with his transcriptions to try to capture Beethoven's symphonies as faithfully as possible on the piano. In the days before recording, Liszt's goal was to make it possible for listeners to hear the symphonies who would not otherwise have access to an orchestra. Liszt's transcriptions are virtuosic in character and beyond the reach of the amateur pianist. He began work on the transcriptions in 1838 and did not complete them until 1865.
The two symphonies on this CD are middle period works. The symphony no. 4 in B-flat major opus 60 is a gentle, lyrical work that dates from 1806 and remains the least often performed of the nine. Robert Schumann said of the Fourth that it was "a Greek maiden between two Norse giants. One of these "giants" of course is the other work on this CD, the heroic symphony no. 5 in c minor, opus 67, first performed in 1808.
The Liszt transcriptions can best be viewed as piano compositions in their own right. The piano cannot create the variety of orchestral sounds, in spite of Liszt's efforts, including particularly the lightness of the winds in the Fourth Symphony and the brass and varied orchestration of the Fifth. The transcriptions still are effective in capturing a great deal of the symphonies as independent music. Biret plays with beautiful dynamic control and articulation between stacatto and singing passages. Most importantly is her use of voicing between the hands which allows the lines of Beethoven's music to be heard.
Her readings tend to be substantially slower than in any orchestral renditions of the symphonies.
The Fourth symphony opens with a long slow, tension-building introduction and includes as well a lengthy lyrical slow second movement. Biret is at her best in these moments of the work, capturing the mystery of the opening with long tremolo figures in the lower register and singing through the extended, varied lyricism of the second movement adagio. The remainder of the symphony is full of high spirits and humor. There is a zing to the allegro vivace, based on quick finger work, that follows the opening adagio, with a spirited scherzo third movement and a bumptious, lively finale. Hi-Fi News commented on this movement, upon the initial LP release: "Hear Idil Biret immersed in the music at her sparkling best in the finale of the 4th Symphony -- there you have a mirroring of the classic Josef Krips/Concertgeouw reading."
The heroic Fifth Symphony is more difficult to make work on the piano. Biret takes the work at a slow tempo throughout. The work has a clangorous character on the piano which is effective at the cost of a sense of propulsion and forward drive. The opening movement with its four-note motif was aptly described by the reviewer for Classical Net as "weighty and dark, especially in her treatment of the famous opening motto." Biret plays the tender second movement of the work with great lyricism but with great slowness and deliberation. The Classical Net reviewer said it was "almost as if this movement is a close cousin to the funeral march in the Eroica." The third movement has a haunting quality as Biret handles the mysterious transition to the finale well but the transition lacks the exhuberance and magic this moment has with the orchestra. The finale itself is also taken deliberately. Biret plays musically and avoids the temptation to bang this score. The work is effective in its own right as a composition for the piano.
Although Liszt wrote his transcriptions for those with limited access to orchestral performances, Biret's recordings will have greatest appeal to listeners who know Beethoven's symphonies well and who are willing to experiment by hearing them in a piano transcription. Biret offers pianistic renditions of the 4th and 5th symphonies that will offer a fresh approach to the music for experienced listeners.