Khatia Buniatishvili at Wigmore Hall – Schumann, Liszt & Stravinsky

Fantasy in C, Op.17
Mephisto Waltz No.1
Three Movements from Petrushka

Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 1 November, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Khatia Buniatishvili. Photograph: Esther Haase/SonyThere was a real sense of expectation surrounding this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert from New Generation artist Khatia Buniatishvili, who has recently signed a recording contract with Sony and who played Liszt’s Piano Sonata at Steven Kovacevich’s 70th-birthday concert.

There was more Liszt here, though a poetic performance of Schumann’s Fantasy began the concert. It was soon abundantly clear that this was not to be a ‘normal’ reading, with Buniatishvili hovering over the pronounced first note, giving a mannered but musical performance of the theme, and using expansive rubato to make her point between sections. Though this interpretation could occasionally be questioned her performance had clearly been thought through in great detail, technically superb while offering fresh and vibrant observations of the music. The joyous march of the second movement was full-bodied one minute, and testing the limits of pianissimo the next, just occasionally stretching her choice of tempo to the limit in the tricky recapitulation. The limpid third movement, however, was beautifully judged, Buniatishvili taking her time to softly express the song-like melodies.

Buniatishvili really kicked into gear with the Mephisto Waltz, a rather topical choice the day after Halloween! Buniatishvili chose a fiendish tempo that initially seemed rash, but somehow she kept up with it, her fingers a blur on the keyboard. At times this worked against her, however, with melodic definition suffering due to the sheer profusion of notes she had to play. That said, this was still a remarkable feat of virtuosity, appropriately devilish and unhinged, and leaving a sense of shock when the piece thundered to an abrupt full-stop.

Stravinsky’s own transcription of sections from Petrushka, made for Artur Rubinstein, is notoriously difficult, and often used as a virtuoso showpiece. Buniatishvili succeeded in bringing the elements of the ballet to the keyboard, blending the charming aspects of the score with the outrageously vulgar. Once again the quickness of her fingers deceived the eye, the fast music daringly inclined, but there was room to breathe as we enjoyed the dazzling colours of the final ‘Shrovetide Fair’ tableau. Once again there was a propensity for melodic detail to be lost inside the clumps of harmony, but the rhythmic drive ensured the music continued unabated.

Sensibly Buniatishvili chose the third of Liszt’s ‘Liebesträume’ as an encore, the melody and its soft accompaniment complementing the bluster of the Stravinsky to offer a wonderful sense of repose.

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