Khatia Buniatishvili plays Schubert – Piano Sonata D960, Impromptus D899, Schubert/Liszt Serenade [Sony Classical]

3 of 5 stars

Piano Sonata in B-flat, D960
Four Impromptus, D899
Schubert, arr. Liszt
Schwanengesang, D957 – IV: Ständchen

Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)

Recorded 19-23 December 2018 at Markus-Sittikus-Saal, Hohenems, Austria

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2019
Duration: 83 minutes



Unlike Magnus Magnusson, I started but I didn’t finish. That was a few weeks ago when I sampled Khatia Buniatishvili’s approach to D960 – on that occasion her individual slant, while interesting and certainly personal, proved an obstacle to anything halfway-decent in terms of the written word in response to a reading that will engender diverse reactions.

So, approaching this release backwards, I now treated Liszt’s song transcription as the entrée rather than the end-of-disc encore. What was a lyric from Schubert’s publisher-compiled Schwanengesang becomes an enchanting piano piece. Buniatishvili plays it slower that it perhaps warrants, revealing a morose side to the music than might have been intended by either composer, and Rellstab’s words anyway suggest the serenader is likely to be lucky in nocturnal love (as he makes amorous and hopeful appeals to his beloved), whereas Buniatishvili suggests something unrequited will be the outcome, and there is no doubting it is night-time (maybe perpetually) and that the pianist nourishes her approach to hypnotic effect as well as distended proportions; there is a magical two-second right-hand glissando from 6’24 that raises a smile of appreciation, although the long-held final chord brings a twang that is presumably down to the (aptly-named) sustaining pedal.

Centrepiece(s) then, whichever approach you take to the contents, is/are the Impromptus D899, the C-minor opening with an arresting fortissimo, then we are in a desolate world, one garnished with very-loud and less-soft, if some optimism, and there’s no questioning Buniatishvili’s generous spirit or her penchant for atmosphere. By contrast the E-flat ripples very quickly, to whimsical and showy effect, as if the brook is ravaged by a tempest … and then, contrarily, Buniatishvili touches the heartstrings with an eloquent G-flat, private; she searches Schubert’s soul and finds much. And, as if to undo any preconceptions I (or you) might have, she brings poise and gravitas to the A-flat, shapely, appealing, loaded.

The B-flat Sonata, Schubert’s ultimate in the genre … any better now from Khatia B? Not really! Starting gravely, Molto moderato to a tee, she gets quicker and quicker until glibness sets in (I mean no disrespect to Clementi, but his music came to mind) … and then, damnation, having clumped her way through the lead-back bars and thrown away the thunderous bass trill in terms of its theatrical import, we have to go through the same dubious process again, snatching at notes, exaggerating dynamics. The rest of the first movement is intermittent in dignity, and the recapitulation is likewise solemn to skittish in a few minutes; third time unlucky.

But wait, the second movement is rather remarkable. Forget the Andante marking, this is Lento lugubre, the music bleak, icy, and Buniatishvili sustains such inhospitably implacably to close on fifteen minutes (a third-longer than the average). Tedious or enthralling? Up to you. Following which, the quicksilver Scherzo (Trio at-one with it) brings a thaw, and the scampering Finale suggests a certain if pulverising resilience. Excellent recorded sound, no barriers to what Khatia B is doing.

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