Classical review: Idil Biret, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

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IT’S over 65 years since Idil Biret first started playing.

Today, the walk across the stage to the Steinway grand may be slow, and her smile has a subtle gentleness – but when Biret’s hands make contact with her instrument, she displays an energy someone half her age would struggle to muster.

Performing as part of the Conservatoire’s “Mondays at One” series, Turkish-born pianist Biret chose two composers she has a life-long affinity with: Beethoven and Liszt. The former’s Piano Sonata No. 21 Waldstein is deemed one of his most technically challenging works, but Biret has clearly absorbed the work deep inside her. Without sheet music, she ploughed through this powerful work as if it were a nursery rhyme.

As a listener, it’s hard to lose yourself in the piece until halfway through the Adagio, when the whole thing bursts open. But it’s in the Allegretto that Waldstein really takes flight, giving Biret ample opportunity to prove that at 71, her fingers have no intention of slowing down.

Two of Liszt’s Grand Études followed, and there were moments when you felt sure smoke would rise from the keys. Yet there’s not a trace of emotion on Biret’s face – it’s almost as if her hands belonged to someone else.

More Liszt followed in the form of Années de pèlerinage, bringing with it some playful tenderness, followed by an encore even faster than anything that went before it. Surely a huge inspiration to the students in the building hoping for longevity in their future careers.

Rating: ****