Khatia Buniatishvili at Carnegie Hall

Gymnopédie No.1

Prelude in E-minor, Op.28/4
Scherzo No.3 in C-sharp minor

Bach, arr. Buniatishvili
‘Air’ from Orchestral Suite No.3 in D, BWV1068  

Impromptu in G-flat, D899/3

Schubert, trans. Liszt
Schwanengesang – ‘Ständchen’

Polonaise in A-flat, Op.53
Mazurka in A-minor, Op.17/4

Pièces de Clavecin, Book II – ‘Les baricades mistérieuses’

Prelude and Fugue in A-mnor [after J. S. Bach]
Consolation No.3 in D-flat
Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in C-sharp minor [trans. Horowitz]

Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 19 October, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Returning to Carnegie Hall since her 2016 Zankel Hall recital and making her Stern Hall debut, Khatia Buniatishvili offered a narrow-ranging program. The results were often inspiring, but sometimes disappointing.

The evening began impressively, with an effective rendering of Satie’s rule-bending Gymnopédie No.1, straightforward and gently intoned. After the briefest of breaks, the reflective mood was extended in a plaintive opening of Chopin’s E-minor Prelude, the fourth piece in his Opus 28 set, with the pianist’s super-soft playing successfully conveying the composer’s profound sense of melancholy. This segued into Chopin’s Third Scherzo, which fared less well in a bristling, flamboyantly dexterous interpretation that paid little regard to expressive subtleties but drew the first ovation of the evening, thus establishing a pattern: whenever a piece’s ending was loud and fast, the audience burst into wild applause. Otherwise, silence.

Next came a deeply sensitive account of Bach’s ‘Air’ in the pianist’s own unashamedly romanticized arrangement, which led directly into Schubert’s G-flat Impromptu. Though marked Andante mosso, on this occasion it came off as closer to Lento if permeated with a dark and alluring Romanticism.

Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s ‘Ständchen’ was especially well played, showing a fine control of dynamics and emphasizing the softer, more romantic aspects of love and longing. Two Chopin pieces followed. While the elegance of the A-flat Polonaise – played at such a rapid-fire pace that it blurred and ultimately dissolved its dignified character, making it hard to envision as a dignified Polish dance – eluded Buniatishvili, she managed to perfectly capture the drama and delicate melancholy of the Mazurka in A-minor, endowing the final bars with a heart-wrenching poignancy.

A completely pianistic version of François Couperin’s ‘Les baricades mistérieuses’ led to Liszt’s inventive version of J. S. Bach’s A-minor Prelude and Fugue. More Liszt than Bach, the Prelude was replete with Romantic passion, the Fugue overflowing with elegant harmonies and intricate figurations, played with freedom. She then delivered Liszt’s dreamy D-flat Consolation with great sensitivity and simplicity. By contrast her idiosyncratic rendition of Horowitz’s transcription of Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody – full of  supersized dynamics and overly protracted tempos – bordered on kitsch.

The evening closed on a light note with Buniatishvili’s arrangement of Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘La javanaise’ offered as an encore and played with wonderfully flowing legato and luminous textures.

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