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ClassicsOnline Home » CHOPIN, F.: 2 Mazurkas / SCRIABIN, A.: Piano Sonata No. 10 / PROKOFIEV, S.: Piano Sonatas Nos. 2 and 7 (Biret Archive Edition, Vol. 2)
“This is the most successful direct-to-disc piano recording I have heard. Having an artist as sensitive and accomplished as Idil Biret at the keyboard is an enormous help. Her fluency seems limitless and her ability to control, even at the softest dynamics, is all too rare these days…Hers is a bona fide virtuoso rendition.” HIGH FIDELITY – USA 1977
“Direct-to-disc recording has become almost unknown in this era of doctored tapes and pieced-together performances, but it is making a comeback. Finnadar records has used this process for a recording by the gifted young pianist Idil Biret. Never have I heard such superb, resonant, clear piano sound on a record. The demands on the soloist are, of course, fearsome. You hear the music just as she played it, a whole recordside at a time. Included are two Chopin Mazurkas, Prokofiev’s 2nd
Sonata and Scriabin’s 10th Sonata. They are superb performances, filled with marvelous dynamic contrast.” CLAVIER MAGAZINE – USA 1977
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 music (1). 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
DISCOGRAPHY of IDIL BIRET / FINNADAR (ATLANTIC RECORDS)
SR9004 Boulez: Sonata No. 2; Webern: Variations, Op.27 (1973)
SR9008 Berg: Sonata Op. 1 (1975)
SR9013 Ravel: Sérénade grotesque, Gaspard de la nuit; Stravinsky: The Five Fingers, A Waltz for Children, Pétrouchka Three Scenes (1976)
SR125 Prokofiev: Sonata No. 2; Chopin: Two Mazurkas; Scriabin: Sonata No. 10 (1977) Direct to
Disc in a single take without edits (Limited Edition of 5500 copies)
SR9021 Mimaroğlu: Session; Castiglioni: Cangianti; Boucourechliev: Archipel IV;
Brouwer: Sonata “Pian e Forte” (1978)
SR9023 Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique, piano transcription by Liszt (1979)
SR9029 Rachmaninov: Prelude C sharp minor; Miaskovsky: Sonatas Nos.2 and 3;
Scriabin: 5 Preludes, Op. 74 (1980)
SR9035 Mahler: Piano Quartet; Franck: Piano Quintet (1982) with the London String Quartet (Carl Pini, Violin—Benedict Cruft, Violin—Ruşen Güneş, Viola—Roger Smith, Cello)
SR90460 Beethoven: Sonata No. 8 “Pathétique”; Sonata No. 29 “Hammerklavier” (1986)
Frédéric CHOPIN Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4
Mazurka in B major, Op. 56, No. 1
Alexander SCRIABIN Sonata No. 10, Op. 70
Sergei PROKOFIEV Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 14, Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83
This album turns back the clock to the first half of the 20th Century, an era when musicians made their recordings in continuous, uninterrupted takes, each one etched indelibly in the surface of the master disk. It was a time when any musical or technical slip-up in a recording could not be eliminated or erased, and there was only one antidote for any mishap: a new master disk was placed in the recording lathe, and the musicians would go back to the beginning of the piece and start all over again.
These taxing requirements define the recording process known as “direct-to-disk,” a technique that was all but eliminated with the introduction of magnetic tape. Tape gave musicians the freedom to piece their recordings from separate studio events, while direct-disk recording had to be “live,” and an entire record side captured in one actual, “real time” performance.
Today (mid 1970s), the direct-disk process is making a comeback, and what you have here is one of the very first of the new classical direct-disks—the very first classical solo effort by an active recitalist. Like the growing number of big band, jazz combo and symphonic direct-disks, the record takes advantage of the exceptional sonic clarity that results from eliminating an entire generation in the conventional recording process, and though it is not the product of minds bent on squeezing the last iota of distortion out of the recording chain, this record will delight audiophiles with its big, lifelike piano sound. The instrument is a superb pre-1940 Steinway maintained by RCA’s New York studios, and reputed to have been the favored recording piano of another direct-to-disk artist—the great Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Above all this record documents the interpretive powers of young Idil Biret, who is alone on the tightrope, working without a net. As you will hear, she performs deftly, perceptively, poetically, and the pianist is not coasting with any of the simpler repertorial items. This full and demanding program includes music of complexity and considerable difficulty.
Idil Biret has chosen pieces by three important pianists/composers, musicians whose lives were inextricably bound up with the instrument. Indeed it is virtually impossible to talk about Frédéric Chopin, without also discussing the piano. This definer of the Romantic keyboard style wrote practically all his important music for the piano, his work representing one of music’s sublimest marriages of instrument and inspiration.
The dances of his native Poland inspired Chopin above all, and no fewer than 51 of his pieces are titled Mazurka, after the proud waltz-like meter in which they take root. The Mazurka Op. 17, No. 4 (1832–33) dances only in its middle episode, opening and closing in a mysterious, half-lit reverie—one of the most striking of Chopin’s tonal moods. An analysis of the piece’s tonality reveals certain forward-looking ambiguities, reminding us that Chopin was one of music’s most visionary and inventive composers.
His Mazurka Op. 56, No. 1 (1834) conforms to the dance pulse throughout. Critics have tended to dismiss the piece as overlong and weak materially; however, in Idil Biret’s handling a wonderful play of contrasts and subtle undercurrent of urgency make for compelling listening.
If Chopin had visions, Scriabin’s life was a case of possession, of music brought back from other planes of consciousness. The Tenth Sonata (1913), one of the composer’s final works, sounds very much like it comes to us from another world, one in which events are forever in transition, and matter is reduced to atomic particles.
Cast in one movement, the Sonata exploits the twelve scale tones with a new sense of freedom, a reminder that Scriabin was moving towards atonality simultaneously with the Viennese school. The piece has been labeled “Sonata of Trills,” for it takes flight in a fission of rapid note alternations. Faubian Bowers, Scriabin’s biographer, refers to the Sonata’s “shuttering spasms of orgasmic sound,” while the composer himself described the Sonata as “music of insects. Insects are the children of the sun…they are the kisses of the sun, just as birds are winged caresses.”
Scriabin is a bridge between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a culminator of Chopin’s style and the school of salon pianism, and a clear precursor of what was to come. Concert pianist, mystical philosopher, messianic figure to his age, he sought from art an all-encompassing embrace of the senses, and in the Tenth Sonata achieved something close to that ideal.
Like Chopin and Scriabin, Prokofiev built his career on the foundation of his keyboard artistry. He composed extensively for the instrument (five concertos, nine sonatas, numerous other pieces), but unlike the others achieved consummate expression in a number of forms, including symphony, opera and ballet. Prokofiev’s Second Piano Sonata and Scriabin’s Tenth are almost exact contemporaries, yet the two pieces look in opposite directions. Prokofiev casts his glance backward to the eighteenth century; the Second Sonata is one of the ideal examples of his neo-classicism. Despite modernistic elements in its harmony and its novel percussiveness—Prokofiev was re-discoverer of the piano’s percussive nature—the Sonata is unmistakably of the same genus of instrumental solo as that perfected by Mozart and Haydn.
In the Second Sonata there are four movements, the first and the last in classic sonata-allegro theme/development form. The second movement is a driving scherzo, evidencing one of Prokofiev’s primary compositional traits, the so-called “toccata impulse,” a purely instrumental brand of inspiration. The third movement commences as a song, a baleful Russian strain reminiscent of Mussorgsky, that grows increasingly abstract in its melodic turns and harmonization.
In the summer of 1939, spent at Kislovodsk, Prokofiev met Maria-Cecilia Abramovna Mendelson, Mira, who replaced his foreign wife Lina in his affections, with a liaison that might have seemed more acceptable to the Soviet authorities. It is from her that we learn that Prokofiev had been reading Romain Rolland’s book on Beethoven and that this strongly influenced his sixth, seventh and eighth sonatas, works that he wrote simultaneously during the following years. He completed his Sonata No. 7 in B flat major only in 1942 and it was first performed at the Hall of Columns in Moscow on 18 January of the following year by Sviatoslav Richter. The latter later wrote of the disorder and uncertainty and ranging of death-dealing forces in the sonata, with the continuation of what man lives for, love and the affirmation of life. The sonata was awarded a Stalin Prize, Second Class, perhaps through the influence of Miaskovsky, the first of five such official awards that Prokofiev would receive. In a letter of thanks to Miaskovsky Prokofiev modestly refers to the sonata as a muddled piece, less deserving than other simpler works. The first movement, marked Allegro inquieto, starts with an opening phrase, unharmonized and suggesting in its conclusion the tonality of B flat. Before long the two strands of melody diverge, leading to syncopations of greater stridency. A secondary theme appears in an Andantino section, part of a modified sonata-allegro structure. The second movement, Andante caloroso, is in E major, now with a key signature, a feature absent in the first movement. The singing melody in an inner part, followed closely in the bass, leads to a central section of varied tonalities and textures, before the final return of the material of the opening, much abridged. The sonata ends with a final movement in 7/8 metre, perceived as 2+3+2. Marked Precipitato, the movement is dominated by this asymmetrical rhythmic pattern, to end in a final affirmative and unambiguous B flat major.
* All the music notes except that for Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 are by Alan Penchansky, from the original LP release of Finnadar, SR 125 (1977). The note for Prokofiev Sonata No. 7 is by Keith Anderson.
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CHOPIN, F.: 2 Mazurkas / SCRIABIN, A.: Piano Sonat...