Idil Beret bears all the marks of an enchantress. Or, possibly, a priestess. Certainly, she possesses a divine fire -- stolen or bestowed, only the gods know. Like a Delphic oracle, this young Turkish-born artist in her recital at the Phillips Collection yesterday turned the piano into an instrument of incantation, weaving powerful sounds that held the listener fast in her spell.
Her background has all the ingredients necessary for legend. Now in her late twenties, she started the piano before she was 3, played a Mozart two-piano concerto with Wilhelm Kempff at 11, and at 15 graduated from the Paris Conservatory with top honors.
The beginning of her concert resembled nothing so much as being lost in an enchanted forest. Two early Bartok works, written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style -- the "Seven Sketches," Op. 9, and "Two Elegies," Op. 8B -- were played with so little pause between the pieces that they all flowed together into a single magical chant. Like a perfect medium, Beret gave herself over to their extreme alternations in mood, finding a disembodied lightness for the passages of dreamlike musings and a forceful richness for the wild, emotional outbursts.
Prokofiev's "Sonata No. 8," Op. 84, offered another kind of journey in which Beret revealed more of her art. Her enormous technical reserves and exquisite command of sonorities enabled her to bring forth the work's structure with impeccable clarity from the mountains of sound.
Beret went on in the second half to Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata, substituting it for the announced Boulez Sonata. Beethoven's fierceness provoked an awesome response from Beret, who approached the music with the fearlessness of the specially blessed. She is not without weaknesses -- the flow of her playing can become so interior it loses momentum -- but there seems little doubt that she is destined to become one of the truly great.
The concert will be broadcast Jan. 10 at 10 p.m. on WETA-FM. It should not be missed.