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Turkish pianist Idil Biret is a fixture of the Naxos catalog and its completist enterprises, having recorded the collected piano works of Chopin and Brahms for the label. Between 1994 and 2008, she recorded a cycle of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas for her own IBA (Idil Biret Archives) label. She has appeared with most of the world's major orchestras and presented recitals in many countries, with a notable high point being a complete performance of Liszt's brutally difficult transcriptions of Beethoven's nine symphonies at the 1986 Montpellier Festival in France. Studio performances of those transcriptions were recorded for EMI and released on the IBA label. Biret was, in short, one of the world's top-rank pianists, not a star whose name was familiar even to casual listeners, but a versatile performer whose capabilities were well known to enthusiasts.
Born November 21, 1941, in Ankara, Turkey, Biret was a classic child prodigy. Turks called her the Turkish Mozart, and when she was eight the financially strapped Turkish Parliament voted a special appropriation to make possible her musical education in Europe. Hypersensitive to music as a baby, she gained the ability to hear a tune and reproduce it on the piano when she was only two. She had an uncanny ability to learn music in her mind without practicing it at the keyboard, delivering it perfectly formed to the amazement of onlookers. Biret's first teacher in France was the famed pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, under whose tutelage she blazed through the curriculum at the Paris Conservatory. She took three first prizes there at 15 and began her professional career the following year. Biret later studied with German pianist Wilhelm Kempff, who called her his favorite disciple.
One major event of her early career was a series of concerts she gave in Moscow in 1960, organized by Russian pianist Emil Gilels. She would go on to play over 100 concerts in Russia. In 1963 Biret made her U.S. debut with the Boston Symphony in Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3, a trademark work in her repertoire. However, in addition to her Chopin and Brahms cycles, Biret was known for performing and recording contemporary music. She recorded extremely adventurous music for composer Ilhan Mimaroglu's label Finnadar in the 1970s, and her 1995 Naxos disc of Pierre Boulez's three sonatas won France's Golden Diapason award.