Proms 2011 – Khatia Buniatishvili

Piano Sonata in B minor
Liebesträume – No.3: O Lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
Piano Sonata No.7 in B flat, Op.83

Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 8 August, 2011
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Khatia Buniatishvili. Photograph: Julia WeselyHer programme and performing style suggests that Khatia Buniatishvili is an artist to compare closely with a young Martha Argerich, who has paid particularly close attention to her development as a pianist. Buniatishvili has already spoken of her close affinity with the music of Liszt, a subject continued in a breathless interview with BBC Radio 3 presenter Catherine Bott mid-recital.

Buniatishvili’s debut album for Sony Classical is in homage to the composer-pianist and her account of Liszt’s Piano Sonata was deeply passionate and darkly dramatic. There were interpretative quirks and issues raised by the pianist’s approach, but she cannot be accused of sitting on the fence or giving any half-measures. The opening notes built a sense of occasion, rubato adding to the sense of an approaching event, but once it had erupted the ensuing Allegro was rapid in its thematic exposition, energetic but with some detail lost. As the Sonata unfolded Buniatishvili introduced some unusual phrasing, with some exquisite pianissimo and – mostly – refined fortissimos. One such instance of quiet formed the approach to the Fugue signalling the return of the ‘allegro’ theme, where the music nearly ground to a halt, then going forward with increasing conviction. Once full power was attained, there was again some loss of detail, although the intensity of feeling was considerable.

The Liebesträum (the famous one) was delicately brushed and given with appropriate stillness, before we were back in to the fast lane with Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata. Buniatishvili spoke about the importance of virtuosity not being for its own sake (although she doesn’t always match her own words), but to make the interpretation of the music possible. That was certainly the case with Prokofiev, though again there were unusual stresses, especially as the finale’s insistent three-note motif took hold. The manic nature of the first movement theme was swiftly despatched but well caught, running the fine line between control and wildness that got the composer unexpected acclaim from the opposed viewpoints of Stalin and Miaskovsky.Both fast movements, while dazzling in their technical command, were lacking in the emotion that the second one provided, the baleful main subject holding in the memory despite the chromaticism of its elaboration; here Buniatishvili successfully conveyed the composer’s deep sense of melancholy, and doing so with softness made it all the more affecting. Similar feelings were explored in the reflective encore, Chopin’s E minor Prelude, the fourth such piece from the Opus 28 set.

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