direct-todisc.jpgIn the 1970s there was a brief period when a very limited number of Direct to Disc LP recordings were issued. The main reason was the claim that better sound quality could be obtained with the direct to disc process which was the same as that used for recording 78 rpms.

The difficulty was that unlike the 78 rpms with 6-8 minutes per side with LPs each side was about 20-25 minutes and there was no editing possibility. So, you heard exactly what the pianist played (and not the now possible way of even of recording individual measures of a piece and the engineer creating a performance).

It took a lot of courage for a musician to agree to record a direct to disc LP. So, only very few of these were made and most, I believe, were orchestral. Idil Biret’s Finnadar LP is the only one I know which is a piano solo album. She recorded three takes for each side and then selected the best one.

The decision here was very difficult because for example in the Prokofiev Sonata side (around 20 minutes) the take she really liked from the interpretation aspect had a small error and they had to use another take which was technically perfect but was second best in interpretation according to Idil.

Soon after direct to discs disappeared as musicians used to the comfortable modern studio editing possibilities did not like the idea and none of the major labels took it up.

So, Idil Biret’s LP is a very rare and precious production, that of a real artist not afraid of exposing her performance as it is.

The LP was issued in a limited adition of 5000 copies each individually numbered (with prefix A). Also 500 extra copies were printed for promotional purposes (the numbers bearing the prefix B).

© Notes by Sefik Yüksel

This album turns back the clock more than a quarter of a century, to 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 altered 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 or 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 together from separate studio events, while direct disk recording had to be “live”, an entire record side captured in one actual, “real time” performance.

Today, 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-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 o 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 indudes music of complexity and considerable difficulty, and these are some of the longest direct-disk sides ever transcribed.

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 Frederic Chopin, without also discussing the piano. This definer of the Romantic keyboard style wrote practically all his important music for piano, his work representing one of musics 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 Chopins tonal moods. An analysis of the pieces tonality reveals certain forward-looking ambiguities, reminding us that Chopin was one of music’s most visionary and inventive of 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 competing 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 toward 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. Faubion Bowers, Scriabin’s biographer, refers to the Sonata’s “shuttering spasms of orgasmic sound; white 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 pionism, and a dear 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 neoclassicism. Despite modernistic elements in its harmony and its novel percussiveness – Prokofiev was a rediscoverer of the piano’s percussive nature – the Sonata is unmistakably of the same genus of instrumental solo as that perfected by Mozart and Haydn.

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.

© Notes by Alan Penchansky

 Clavier Feb. 1978, by Dorothy Packard  Billboard in 1978
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, a subsidiary of Warner, has used the process for a recording by the gifted young pianist Idil Biret.The price is high, $12.98 suggested retail, but if you care about sound quality, you will be attracted nonetheless.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 (op.17 no.4, op.56 no.1). Prokofiev’s Sonata No.2, and Scriabin’s Sonata No.10. They are superb performances, tilled with marvelous dynamic contrasts. Playing always perceptively, Biret triumphs with Scriabin, introspective and glittering by turns. It is interesting that the Scriabin, so modern in its time (1913), was contemporary with the Prokofiev, which is neo-classic – a look backward at the 18th century. This production was motivated by the challenge to the performer of direct disking, not by any dissatisfaction with tape recording.Idil Biret, working solo and programming sides of considerable length and difficulty, leaves an unimpeachable record of the powerful continuity and heightened poetry of her interpretations. Indeed few direct disks are as artistically impressive as this one.Technically, ambient microphoning has been favored and the piano sound is not as lively as many audio butts would prefer.A compromise in pressing quality also is noticeable. For demo purposes, side 1, band 1, the two Chopin mazurkas, is suggested.
 High Fidelity Dec. 1978, by Harris Goldsmith
This is the most successful direct-to-disc piano recording I have heard.The bright, crystalline top is present, but there is also a warm ambience, with none of the glaring telephone-booth constriction of recordings seemingly made without the awareness that appropriate acoustics are as important to piano sonority as shocking clarity.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.Interpretively, the young Turkish-born, French-trained Biret has her own mind about all of this music, yet for all the subjectivity she never violates the basic idiom of the work at hand.The two Chopin mazurkas are treated very freely, with a complex rubato and almost tricky inner-voice dialogue – an arresting blend of fragile delicacy and commanding strength. The Prokofiev Second Sonata has less of the steely rhythm heard in the second and fourth movements of Gary Graffman’s recording (due for rerelease on Odyssey), but Biret compensates with a warm, almost improvisatory, flexibility; her folktale-like interpretation emphasizes the kinship with such contemporaneous Prokofiev works as Tales of the Old Grandmother.Scriabin’s last sonata gets a reading that, once again, cultivates delicacy and warmly singing tone. Whereas Horowitz, in his great 1966 live recording (Columbia M31620 or M2S 757), shapes the febrile phrases on an epic scale, the present account treats the music more intimately, with an equally valid series of sharp accents followed by diminuendos. For sheer power, it would be hard to rival the sustained colossal energy that Horowitz brings to the chains of trills in the first big climax, but Biret, helped by the wide dynamic range, creates almost comparable – if more intermittent – energy. Hers is a bona fide virtuoso rendition.The price is steep, but in this case artistic values go hand in hand with aural ones. A fine disc.
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Sergey Prokofiev (1891 – 1953)
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Alexander Scriabin (1872 – 1915)