Khatia Buniatishvili at Queen Elizabeth Hall – Ravel Gaspard de la nuit, Brahms, Chopin, Stravinsky Petrushka

Gaspard de la nuit
Intermezzos – in E flat, Op.117/1; in B flat minor, Op.117/2; in A, Op.118/2
Scherzo in B flat minor, Op.31
La valse
Three Movements from Petrushka

Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 4 June, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Khatia Buniatishvili. Photograph: Esther Haase/SonyThe original order of the first half was Brahms and then Ravel, but Khatia Buniatishvili made the bold decision to play Ravel’s taxing Gaspard de la nuit at the beginning of her International Piano Series recital. The first of the work’s three pieces, ‘Ondine’, was coolly given and lacked any kind of magic or beauty; sometimes passages were a little scrambled and the pianist tended to snatch at phrases. ‘Le gibet’, which should have a dark, desolate character, emerged as a rather plain, static exercise, and Ravel’s depiction of the mischievous gnome ‘Scarbo’ turned into a hectic scramble: rhythms were insecure, there was no sense of personality, and bundles of notes just tumbled out of Buniatishvili fingers in a less than coherent manner.

After the Ravel it seemed initially that we were on safer ground, since the first of Brahms’s Intermezzo was quite warmly played, with a pleasing tone quality, but the second was somewhat halting: it didn’t progress at all naturally and expression seemed to be applied from without rather than emerging from the flow of the music. The third piece rather meandered along; contact with the intimate nature of the music was not established.

After the interval Buniatishvili charged into the Chopin Scherzo. Her phrasing was impatient, with ‘expressive’ commas inserted at the wrong points, unstable rhythms and no real sense of expression. La valse was a technical tour de force no doubt, but the music was mercilessly pummelled and pulled about; Buniatishvili dashed forward regardless, without concern for the music’s form and meaning. Then she plunged into Stravinsky’s Petrushka. Tempos were hectic and the playing capricious, unstable and lacked any kind of characterisation or coherence, but it was an extraordinary display of digital dexterity.

The best playing of the evening came in the first encore, the Minuet in G minor from a Handel Keyboard Suite (H434). Here Buniatishvili revealed a beautiful tone quality, poeticism, and with a firm but gentle rhythmic pulse. But in the second extra it was back to mere digital virtuosity in a brutally hammered out finale of Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata.

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