Three Idil Biret Gaspards For The Price Of One

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

Idil Biret first recorded Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit in 1965 for the Vega label, but she did not approve its issue at the time. After recently discovering an acetate LP master in her archive, the pianist has now allowed it to be released, alongside her subsequent 1974 and 1984 recordings of the triptych.

How do the performances differ? As I often say when faced with comparative listening, the devil is in the details, with sonic considerations playing a big role. Due to the 1984 recording’s relatively distant microphone perspective, Ondine’s right-hand ostinatos sound the smoothest and least “notey” of the three renditions, while Biret’s rubatos likewise congeal more assiduously. In Scarbo, by contrast, the closer miking in the 1965 and 1975 versions conveys more pugilistic impact throughout Biret’s impetuous dynamic surges and virtuosic climaxes.

While the 1965 and 1984 Le Gibet readings are relatively “normal” in regard to Biret’s long-lined, multi-textural control, her considerably slower 1975 traversal times out to a near-record 9 minutes and 18 seconds. Perhaps it’s due to the engineering that Ravel’s haunting repeated B-flats dominate the foreground to fatiguing effect, although the slow-moving chords manage to cohere and hang together, albeit by a proverbial thread.

All three Gaspards represent Biret at the height of her technical and coloristic powers. Biret’s 1975 world-premiere recording of Ravel’s early Serenade grotesque fills out the release. Other pianists in her wake have characterized and differentiated the music’s abrupt contrasts more successfully, but Biret’s nervous energy and petulant accents suit the music’s caustic nature. Sefik B. Yüksel’s booklet notes discuss Biret’s Ravel discography more methodically than anyone has done before, or will likely do in the future. Look at it this way: where else are you going to find three Idil Biret Gaspard de la nuit recordings for the price of one?

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Gaspard de la nuit: Pogorelich (DG); Grosvenor (Decca); Argerich (DG)


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