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Seen and Heard International Recital Review

Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin: Idil Biret (piano), Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 6.12.2005 (BJ)


Moving from the East Coast of the United States to the Seattle area a few weeks ago seemed to have two piano-related down-sides: I would have to miss Ivan Moravec’s Carnegie Hall recital at the end of October, and Idil Biret’s appearance at the Boston Conservatory a month later. In the case of Ms Biret, however, there was a fortunate consolation: having heard that their ancestral nation’s greatest pianist was in the States, Seattle’s Turkish community organized a recital for her, with sponsorship from Boeing and the Turkish Cultural Foundation–and promoted it to such purpose in just three weeks and a half that the 540-seat Nordstrom Recital Hall was very respectably peopled to around two-thirds of its capacity.

My first encounter with Biret’s playing, when I had occasion a few years ago to review her recording of the complete piano music of Brahms in a 12-CD Naxos set, left me an enthusiastic admirer of a remarkable musician who is still not as widely celebrated as she deserves. The set included a stunning performance of the composer’s left-hand arrangement of the Chaconne from Bach’s D-Minor Violin Partita, and it was with this work that her Seattle program began. She played it, once again, stunningly. The hall’s American Steinway was perhaps a shade too voluminous in tone for the venue, yet Biret showed all her customary ability to deliver incisive sound and clearly delineated textures without ever descending into harshness. The performance of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata that followed was impressively long-lined, its architecture never compromised despite a wealth of telling detail, and Biret’s unusually deliberate tempo for the Allegretto moderato finale lent especially effective contrast to a Prestissimo coda delivered with breathtaking aplomb.

In addition to her gifts as a pianist in the grand romantic tradition, Biret is a talented arranger. Beginning her second half with her versions of three songs from Brahms’s Schöne Magelone cycle, she played them with a wide-ranging sense of poetic atmosphere. This was also the essential quality she brought to the twelve Études of Chopin’s Opus 25. Here, as at the start of the evening, it was possible to wish that the instrument she was playing might have been a little less assertive in sonority, but the result was thrilling. And in the second of two encores, an arrangement by her principal teacher Wilhelm Kempff of a G-Minor Minuet by Handel, the finely judged delicacy and grace of the performance provided just the gentle conclusion the evening needed.


Bernard Jacobson

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