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ClassicsOnline Home » BERG, A.: Piano Sonata No. 1 / WEBERN, A.: Variations / BOULEZ, P.: Piano Sonata No. 2 (Biret Archive Edition, Vol. 4)
“Idil Biret is equal to the challenge (of Boulez’s 2nd Sonata). She does not merely sustain the thirty minute length—enormously ambitious for music that cannot fall back on the familiar landmarks of tonality—but inflects and shapes it in a remarkable way. The drama here…is the dialogue between a thought process and its corporeal realization, between the musical idea itself and its expression as sound-color of an almost improvisatory nature. Miss Biret catches all this, and she does so beautifully. A sensitive performance of the by-now classic Webern Variations completes and impressive American recording debut.” BEST OF THE MONTH, STEREO REVIEW – USA December 1973
“I slipped out (of the hall) and down Broadway to the Merkin Concert hall, where the Turkish pianist Idil Biret was giving a rare performance of Pierre Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata. Miss Biret’s way with the piece was astonishing. She slammed into the keyboard and attacked the music tempestuously. She played from memory and drove the music with an unrelenting virtuosity. All the gestures of the work—the stark contrasts of register and volume, the angular structure of the phrases, the sharp delineation of the part-writing—were there in outline…This was a gripping, impressive account of a commanding score.” THE NEW YORKER – USA February 1982
“Boulez’s major contribution to the sonata literature is the 2nd. Schwann currently lists only those by Pollini and Biret. Both are excellent and have the advantage of emphasizing complementary aspects of the score. Pollini’s performance, the icier, is more alert to the music’s violence…Biret’s performance, reminds us of the music’s fantastic side: she’s more effective in the impressionistic haze of the 2nd movement, and she manages to give the 3rd movement an almost jazzy flavor…Biret and Pollini simply carry you forward.” FANFARE – USA
The FINNADAR RECORDINGS of IDIL BIRET
Idil Biret started recording for the Finnadar in 1972, following a proposal from Ilhan Mimaroglu. At the time Mimaroglu, a composer of electronic music, was working as a producer for Atlantic Records in New York, mostly with its co-founder Nasuhi Ertegün. 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, Ilhan Mimaroglu 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 which 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 US 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 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 19th century that had fallen out of favour in the 20th century. Idil Biret performed the Berlioz/Liszt work at recitals all over the world including New York, London, Paris, Munich, Milan and helped establish respect for the performance of piano transcriptions once again. On the base 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 was folded up 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 Ilhan Mimaroglu’s Finnadar label - an imprint that went 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 salespeople 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 copyrights of 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 Ilhan and Güngör Mimaroglu 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 Sefik 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 – Serenade Grotesque, Gaspard de la Nuit;
Strawinsky – The Five Fingers, A Waltz for Children, Petrouchka 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 Mimaroglu – 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 no.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 – Rusen Günes, Viola – Roger Smith, Cello)
SR90460 Beethoven – Sonata no.8 “Pathetique”; Sonata no.29 “Hammerklavier” (1986)
Alban BERG (1885–1935) Piano Sonata, Op. 1
Anton WEBERN (1883–1945) Variations, Op. 27
Pierre BOULEZ (1925) Piano Sonata No. 2
With Pierre Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata Idil Biret not only makes her American recording debut, but also presents the first U.S. recording of this important contemporary work—it was previously recorded in Europe by Yvonne Loriod for Véga and Claude Helffer for Deutsche Grammophon. Composed in 1948, this sonata occupies a position that exerted a causative influence upon Boulez’s subsequent music. Its experimental and ground-breaking nature may be better understood if one regards it as having grown out of a response to Webern’s Variations (1936), the companion piece on this album. The rigid, geometric patterns of Webern’s work, the classical purity of its encompassing organization, seem to have served as a base of departure for Boulez’s broadened structures that are equally rigid but incomparably more complex. It is this very complexity that conceals the strict framework of the entire composition and projects it as the product of an ardent improvisatory impetus. It demands from its interpreter a similar approach, along with technical prowess and intellectual control of the highest order. It was only a matter of course that this work, together with influences emanating from other sources (chiefly that of John Cage), should lead the path not only to open-form and aleatory compositions, including Boulez’s own Third Piano Sonata, but also, through its new pianistic language, urge the development of a whole new generation of virtuoso pianists, such as Aloys and Alfons Kontarsky, Marcelle Mercenier, Frederic Rzewski, David Tudor and Charles Wuorinen.
Berg’s Sonata, Op. 1 is free of balance and intonational problems, while it does challenge the performer in regard to harmonic function and delineation of its overall form. Particularly the latter problem seems to me difficult to solve, since Berg’s Sonata is really an incompleted—or let us say—unfulfilled form. I mean this in the deepest sense, not in terms of any surface appreciation of it. Berg is by far too fine a composer, even at the age of 23, to allow his sonata to merely ramble or “progress” through a series of peaks, foothills and valleys. But, despite Berg’s valiant attempts to organize the Sonata horizontally, as it were, through ingenious manipulation of motivic materials, in the end a certain formal lassitude is inevitable because the harmonic language is pulled in too many directions all at once. Perhaps more than any other composition, Berg’s Sonata incorporates both the before-and-after quality of this entire fin de siècle period and genre. The music hovers on the brink of breaking with tonality, pulled alternatively forward and backward, and often ending up in a sort of stalemate with whole-tone chords and melodies, which Berg uses here as a kind of harmonic “fulcrum” from which he can sally forth either forward into atonal realms or backward into the tonal sphere. The whole-tone vocabulary also dates the piece with the expressionistic Weltschmerz atmosphere and what to us today seems like unabashed, profligate emotion. Berg never lets the music settle down into a “safe” harmonic repose. The piece is restless in its wandering chromaticism. As the pianist Glenn Gould once said, it represents “the last stand of tonality betrayed and inundated by chromaticism.” And yet it is these very qualities which cumulatively compel us to listen deeply. Its exhaustive yearning gestures, its relentless attempts to conquer yet another harmonic / structural peak, its inevitable drop into valleys of Weltschmerz remorse, only to rise immediately again—all this is done with such a remarkable harmonic ear that one can listen to the work satisfactorily just on that level. It was not a time and place Berg could remain for long, but as an opus one the Sonata must rate as an extraordinary youthful achievement.
(Music notes are from the original LPs Finnadar SR 9004 and SR 9008)
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BERG, A.: Piano Sonata No. 1 / WEBERN, A.: Variati...