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Sari Biro (1912 -1990)


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Mozart with a beautiful cadenza.

 

 

 

 

 

Remington R-199-108/3 Bach's Six Partitas performed by Sari Biro, Jörg Demus and John Gillespie. Cover by Steinweiss.

 

 

 

 


Mussorgsky.

 

 


 

 


Sari Biro - picture taken from the CD on which she performs Gian Carlo Menotti, Darius Milhaud, Leo Weiner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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See also the article by Maria Watts on Armchair World.

Hungarian born pianist Sari Biro (Budapest, 24 March 1912), came to the United States in 1940 (according to the short biography on the cover of Remington record R-199-133), but other sources mention 1939. On May 4th 1940 she gave her first concert on US soil, in New York City's Town Hall. Sari Biro was heralded by many a critic, as can be read on the back of the cover of the recording of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (R-199-75).


The day after the Townhall concert The New York Herald-Tribune wrote:

"Coming completely unheralded, Sari Biro proved to be not only one of the most absorbing instrumentalists heard this season, but indubitably one of the most gifted pianists of her sex."

The New York Times:

"Sari Biro must be reckoned among the foremost women exponents of the keyboard of the time."

The New York World Telegram stated:

"The most striking thing about Sari Biro's piano playing was her strength, her man-sized tone, the fury and tempest she could unleash at will ... her fleetness of fingering and the manner in which she could launch into unrestrained and subtle song on occasion."

Sari Biro at thirty, at the time she had made her debut in New York.
Photo by Harry R. Fischer, ARPS, taken from a booking ad, edited by R.A.B (From the SoundFountain Remington Site Archive)

Sari Biro began her musical career at the age of four when she startled her family by sitting down at the piano and playing from memory a simple piece her older sister had been practicing. She was eight when she entered the Franz Liszt Royal Academy (Liszt Ferenc Zenemüvészeti Egyetem) of Budapest where she finished her 'course' in half the allotted time. One of her teachers was Leo Weiner.
After completing her studies she concertized as soloist with the leading European symphony orchestras: Budapest, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, London, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, The Hague, Prague, Salzburg, Zürich, Stockholm, Warsaw, etc.

After her American debut Sari Biro reappeared on different occasions in Town Hall and also in Carnegie Hall. She gave recitals in the major American music-centers and also earned great success when performing with the symphony orchestras of Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Denver, New Orleans and New Haven. She also toured Central and South America.

Since Sari Biro did not have a contract with a record company and was already known by the New York audience, undoubtedly Don Gabor saw in her an interesting artist to complement his small but steady growing catalog. And she was Hungarian as quite a few Remington artists were.

The Remington recordings of Sari Biro:

R-199-70 - Mozart: Piano concerto No. 24, with Wilhelm Loibner conducting the Austrian Symphony Orchestra (coupled with Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" performed by the Austrian Symphony Orchestra, Robert Heger conducting). The record was released in June 1952.

R-199-75 - Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition. Released in June 1952.

R-199-133 Contemporary Piano Composers - Kabalevsky: Sonata No. 3, Bartok: Peasant Songs and Dances (Nos. 7 to 15), Kodaly: Dances from Maroszék. The recording was released in December 1953. The cover is by Alex Steinweiss. Most likely recorded in the Mastertone Recording Studios Inc. in New York City.

R-199-108 is a 3 - 12" record set with Partitas Nos. 1-6 of Johann Sebastian Bach, played by pianists Jörg Demus (Nos. 1 & 6) and Sari Biro (No. 2), and pianist/harpsichordist John Gillespie (Nos. 3, 4 and 5).

NOTE: At the end of World War II John Gillespie spent two years at the Conservatoire Nationale de Paris, studying organ with André Marchal and Marcel Dupré. He later returned to Paris for two years of study at the Sorbonne. He completed his studies in the US and received a Ph.D. in musicology in 1951.
The recording of Sari Biro was not available separately as the Partita covered only one side. Warren DeMotte's evaluation: "The Remington album which divides the chore among two pianists and a harpsichordist, contains some conscientious playing, quite well recorded." The set was released early 1953.

It is known that only the most necessary splicing was done and hardly any additional takes were recorded. In many cases this resulted in a less than an optimal performance on record, or at least what was feasible under the given circumstances.
When comparing Sari Biro's recording of Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' to the performances by pianists like Julius Katchen (Decca/London), Leonard Pennario (Capitol), Alexander Uninsky (Philips/Epic) and Wladimir Horowitz (RCA), critic Warren DeMotte found the Biro performance of Mussorgsky 'prosaic' which was still a better mark than received by Katchen and Pennario. The less dynamic approach of Sari Biro can partially be attributed to the rather dull sound recording or the less dynamic cutting of the matrix.
Her performance of the Mozart Concerto has moments of subtle feeling, especially in the slow movement.
But the most interesting of her four Remington disks is R-199-133. Miss Biro evidently feels at home with the repertoire of Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály and Dimitri Kabalevsky. Sari Biro excelled in the more modern repertoire.

There is a CD with live recordings from 1949 in Carnegie Hall of performances of Gian Carlo Menotti's Piano Concerto, Leo Weiner's Concertino for Piano and Orchestra, and Darius Milhaud's Concerto for Piano. The conductor is Emanuel Vardi.

From 1956 on she lived in San Francisco and appeared also on radio and television. She did much for the recognition of women pianists.

Sari Biro passed away on 2 September, 1990 in San Francisco.

In 1995 the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest established 'The Sari Biro Memorial Award', a monetary prize which is awarded to an outstanding piano student.

Rudolf A. Bruil. Page first published in the Fall of 2002.

Note: The official spelling is Mussorgsky. In early days the name was written Moussorgsky, the French way, and sometimes Moussorgski.


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