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ClassicsOnline Home » RAVEL, M.: Gaspard de la nuit / STRAVINSKY, I.: 3 Movements from Petrushka (Biret Archive Edition, Vol. 1)
“Igor Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Pétrouchka is a musically challenging and unusually difficult score which has to intimidate any pianist in his right mind. Every few years the stereo LP era has engendered a performance of this blockbuster, each deficient in some important aspect…Thanks to Idil Biret, all of these recordings are obsolete. I cannot do enough justice to her command of the music and its technical hurdles, nor to the effect of hearing Stravinsky’s
arrangement played with such comprehensive mastery…This performance is not only the highlight of the disc; it is one of the landmarks of recorded music and belongs on anyone’s list of Great Recordings.”Fanfare Magazine – USA 1977
“Gaspard de la nuit, one of the great landmarks of early 20th Century music, is wonderfully revealed in Idil Biret’s visionary performance on Finnadar…The Pétrouchka scenes are the high-water mark of pianism in Stravinsky’s work, and they are brilliantly played here in a performance that rivals the drama and color of the orchestra original.”Stereo Review – USA 1977
“Talent is what Idil Biret has in prodigious measure. The Turkish pianist made that clear from the start in her recital at Alice Tully Hall…In Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit the pianist had mastered the delicate spray of notes in Ondine, the grim mood of Le Gibet with its interminable oppressive B flats, and the skittering brilliance of Scarbo.”New York Times – USA 1973
The Finnadar Recordings of Idil Biret
Idil Biret started recording for the Finnadar label in 1972, following a proposal from İlhan Mimaroğlu. At the time Mimaroğlu, a composer of electronic music, was working as a producer for Atlantic Records in New York, mostly with its co-founder Nasuhi Ertegün. The Finnadar label was founded as a subsidiary of Atlantic, one of the few imprints within the major-label corporate structure devoted wholly to contemporary music¹. In a rare interview he gave in 2001, İlhan Mimaroğlu described his goal for founding Finnadar records:
It was in the early seventies that I started Finnadar Records with an LP of my electronic music and continued throughout the years, primarily with recordings of contemporary compositions, with a view to also offer to the public performers who should be better known, among them Turkish pianists Idil Biret and Meral Güneyman.²
During an association with Idil Biret that lasted over ten years nine LPs were issued by Finnadar with recordings of many contemporary works including those by Boulez, Berg, Webern, Miaskovsky, Boucourechliev as well as some classical works by Beethoven, Chopin and others (see discography below). The recordings received great critical acclaim in the United States and Europe and the Boulez Sonata No. 2 was selected as the Record of the Month by Stereo Review magazine. Biret later recorded all three Boulez Piano Sonatas for Naxos, a release which received a Diapason d’Or of the year 1995 in France and sold 30.000 copies within six months of its release. The recording of the Berlioz/Liszt Symphonie Fantastique received special attention on both sides of the Atlantic as it was one of the first forays into recording and performing piano transcriptions—a widely practiced art in the nineteenth century that had fallen out of favour in the twentieth. Idil Biret performed the Berlioz/Liszt work at recitals all over the world, including New York, London, Paris, Milan, Istanbul and Munich, and helped establish respect for the performance of piano transcriptions once again. On the basis of these performances and the Finnadar recording she then went on to record for EMI the complete symphonies of Beethoven in the piano transcriptions by Liszt and performed all the nine symphonies in four recitals at the Montpellier Festival (broadcast live by Radio France Musique) during the Liszt Centennial in 1986.
Sadly, the adventurous label Finnadar did not last long and folded in the early 1980s. In a brief note the ex-RCA executive Jack M. Einhorn explains some of the reasons for the early demise of Finnadar:
I first became aware of Idil Biret from her outstanding recordings for İlhan Mimaroğlu’s Finnadar label—an imprint that was ill-distributed by the powers-that-be at then-Warner Distribution (Finnadar was affiliated with Atlantic Records in the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic triumvirate). Her recordings of piano works by Boucourechliev, Miaskovsky, and Berlioz (by way of Liszt) made a strong impression, one that has not faded from this listener’s memory. Warner Distribution’s bread and butter in the late 1970s and 1980s was rock and pop and the Warner sales force had a genuinely bad attitude toward classical music, jazz and world music. The sales people were somewhat surprised that Nonesuch was selling so strongly (could it have been the fact that it was a budget label with a broad but genuinely interesting repertoire base and a great promotional team at Elektra?), and used the false comparison between Nonesuch (budget) and Finnadar (a bargain at full price in my less-than-humble opinion) to marginalize the latter label, which only found a foothold in Tower, a few chain stores, and indy stores with big Classical selections—that is, if the pop-brained salesperson even bothered to call the releases to the attention of the Classics buyer.
Thank God for Klaus Heymann who has given terrific artists like Idil Biret the exposure that they truly merit.³
Ahmet Ertegün gave the copyright in all her Finnadar LPs (then owned by Warner/Atlantic) to Idil Biret shortly before he passed away. Idil Biret would like to express her gratitude to the Ertegün family and to İlhan and Güngör Mimaroğlu for making possible the release of her early Finnadar recordings on the Idil Biret Archive label.
Şefik B. Yüksel
¹ Dave Lewis, All Music Guide
² Interview with Mehmet Dede in New York, 2001
³ From a letter to Şefik B. Yüksel by Jack M. Einhorn, 27 May 2000
Maurice Ravel: Sérénade grotesque; Gaspard de la nuit
Igor Stravinsky: Les cinq doigts; Valse pour les enfants; Pétrouchka—3 scènes
Sérénade grotesque is Ravel’s first composition for the piano. Composed in or about 1893, it is a product of his student days at the Paris Conservatoire. Although a minor piece, it identifies a major talent and an astute craftsman. Its existence was known, but it was “discovered,” along with several other pieces belonging to Ravel’s formative years, by the Queens College (New York) musicologist Arbie Orenstein. In his preface to the first edition, Orenstein notes a parentage between Sérénade grotesque and Scarbo (of Gaspard de la nuit) and relates it also to Alborada del gracioso (of Miroirs). Ravel himself in his biographical sketch, acknowledged the influence of Chabrier, one of his heroes.
It was in those school days at the Conservatoire that a fellow student, Ricardo Viñes had introduced Ravel to the poetry of Bertrand. Viñes, who was to become a renowned pianist and a champion of the new French music of the time, remained a very close friend of Ravel and a devoted interpreter of his music.
Outside of the literary cognoscenti, the celebrity of Louis Aloysius Bertrand rests today on the three pieces that constitute Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. In his short and ailing life (he died in 1841 at the age of 34) Bertrand composed a number of prose poems which were only published after his death. The bulk of his poems are collected under the title Le Gaspard de la nuit, Fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt and Callot, in three books. That these fantasies of Caspar of the night are in the manner of Rembrandt and Callot (seventeenth-century etcher) reflects not only the delicacy and justness with which these poems are chiseled, but their overall character too—Rembrandt representing the philosopher and Callot the prankster. These poems influenced the whole romantic movement in French literature and also established Bertrand as the precursor of such symbolist and surrealist poets as Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Breton.
Ondine, the water sprite luring young men to her castle, there to reign as the king of the lakes…Le Gibet (the gibbet), where hangs a corpse reddened by the setting sun, while a bell tolls beyond the horizon…Scarbo, the diabolic dwarf of a nightmare, growing taller like the tower of a gothic cathedral…Haunting, exalted romantic visions that found in Ravel’s music pianistic expressions which are all the more intense by virtue of their precision.
The first of these three poems Ravel selected for his tone pictures, Ondine, is the ninth poem of the third book. Le Gibet, and Scarbo, are not from Gaspard de la nuit proper, but were published in the same volume as part of a group of individual poems from Bertrand’s portfolio (although there is another Scarbo in the third book of Gaspard).
And who is the Gaspard anyway? Who else but Satan!
Composed during the summer months of 1908, Gaspard de la nuit was first performed by Ricardo Viñes in January 1909 at the Salle Erard, Paris.
Pétrouchka and Les cinq doigts are two dissimilar compositions dating from the same year, 1921. They are dissimilar not so much in compositional style as in instrumental writing. The eight short pieces (“very easy pieces on five notes” specifies the score) for the five fingers (one note for each finger of the right hand which remains in the same position most of the time) are, indeed, easy enough to be played by industrious beginners. Interpretively, though, they serve to detect musical talent as they contain very few indications with regard to tempo, dynamics, phrasing, etc., and a good deal is left to the imagination and musicality of the player, whether a beginner or a seasoned concert artist. Not top-grade Stravinsky, to be sure, as Stravinsky of such qualification was already ten years behind and never to come back, these little pieces deserve in the least a condescending appreciation in the context of what the composer’s intervening years had offered. The major works of these years, Le Rossignol, L’Histoire du soldat, or Les Noces, are only second cousin to L’Oiseau de feu, Pétrouchka and Le Sacre du printemps, the three great ballet scores. Stravinsky was at the end of a period of transition. He had already embarked in the lifelong occupation of masquerading other people’s styles—Pergolesi, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Weber, Webern…Hence Les cinq doigts may be regarded as containing the last vestiges of the Stravinsky that was.
The piano version of Pétrouchka, on the other hand, is the Stravinsky that was. Pianistically, these three movements offer a tremendous challenge to the pyrotechnician and, on a musical base, the highest reward when the challenge is met, as the score contains some of the most inventive, path-breaking and emotionally compelling music ever written. Pétrouchka, in its full-length original orchestral version, is Stravinsky’s masterpiece. The piano version (written for Artur Rubinstein) is no less one.
The charming trifle, Valse pour les enfants, was first published, of all places, in the Paris newspaper, Le Figaro, on May 21 1922 (those must have been the days) and the newspaper’s headline to the effect that it was improvised (in the newspaper offices?) is not correct. It is a piece that one would want to carry on one’s self as an amulet against what clogged the avenues of contemporary music, such monstrosities of Stravinsky’s later years as Oedipus Rex, Orpheus or The Rake’s Progress.
(Music notes are from the original LP, Finnadar SR 9013)
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