Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major [20:09]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major [22:56]
Totentanz in D minor [17:42]
Idil Biret (piano)
Bilkent Symphony Orchestra/Emil Tabakov
rec. Bilkent Symphony Hall, Ankara, June 2004 (Concertos 1, 2); May 2007 (Totentanz). DDD
IBA BMP 8.571273 [60:46]

This disc has a great deal to commend it, with truly virtuosic playing, moments of high drama and contrasting tenderness, and an intelligent understanding of Liszt’s stylistic intentions. But – and this is a big but – the whole enterprise is hugely let down by the poor sound recording. The volume dial needs to be turned up high to hear the music properly, and the overall tone is distant and flat.

Nevertheless, with a few technical adjustments, it is possible to sit back and enjoy this recording. Biret’s playing is top notch. In Liszt’s first concerto she effortlessly tackles everything the composer throws at the soloist, bringing a sense of unity to what can sometimes seem a rather disjointed work. Her sheer pleasure in the music is clearly evident in the playful and witty Allegro vivace (track 3 – the section made famous/notorious by the prominent triangle part), while the rapid flourishes in the Allegro animato (track 4) present no technical difficulties for the veteran pianist.

Liszt’s second concerto is a more intimate affair, and Biret lingers soothingly over its unfolding lyricism in the opening Adagio (track 6), stirring almost reluctantly into the agitated, martial central section of the score. This part (tracks 8-9) is the least effective, with the rapid fistfuls of arpeggios lumping along too slowly to carry the drama and sense of urgency which Liszt intended. But the pace picks up by the close, with a resounding romp home in the final Allegro animato (track 11).

As a final treat, the disc rounds off with a resounding rendition of Liszt’s Totentanz. Biret thunders through the Dies Irae variations, relishing their reckless diabolism. She is well supported by the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra under Emil Tabakov. The brass section – notable too in the first piano concerto – plays particularly well, joined by dark strings and some wickedly wayward woodwind.

John-Pierre Joyce