sat 13/07/2024

Khatia Buniatishvili, Queen Elizabeth Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Khatia Buniatishvili, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Khatia Buniatishvili, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Jekyll and Hyde pianist weaves a magic web, then shreds it

Khatia Buniatishvili: through the looking glass, not always in a good way© Esther Haase/Sony Classical International

A voluptuous dream in sequined silver, the nearly-27-year-old Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili sat down at the keyboard and instantly transcendentalised her mermaid look as Ravel’s Ondine. Even Brahms took to the life aquatic of her recital’s first half. For the second, though, there should have been a costume change into a clown suit with a tatty tutu pulled over it.

Never have I witnessed a crazier trip through the distorting mirror – and if even Stravinsky’s mad puppet Petrushka couldn’t take the relentless onslaught, what about the poor old Chopin Second Scherzo and the Ravel La Valse transcription?

It’s weird: the rolling and splashing hadn’t bothered me at all in Buniatishvili's wild interpretation of the Liszt B minor Sonata a couple of years back, which had others frothing at the mouth. But Liszt has pretensions that I’ve never heard in Chopin, and there was no chance of getting to the essence here with pecked unisons and snatched, stagey roars. Let’s be fair, Buniatishvili never bashes even when she only approximates with that formidable technique; it’s just that she steals all the thunder from the real climaxes as she presumably imagines she’s living the moment.

More best intentions were unravelled as Hyde overwhelmed Jekyll in a final encore Ravel’s image of the dance never sounded remotely like a waltz, and hardly approximated even to some demented Caucasian lezghinka; it was doomed to gape and totter far too soon, and the only wonder was that it ranted on as long as it did. Even the Russian Dance of Stravinsky’s puppets, diatonic C major to contrast all the more strikingly with the harmonic dissolution of manic Petrushka in his cell, crashed into polytonal chaos more than once and thudded like the more outlandish rituals of The Rite of Spring (for which, in fact, this saner music was originally destined). When all was frantic activity, you just couldn’t hone in on the dramatic, balletic signposts even of the fairground folksongs.

Dodgy musicianship, then? It's not that simple. Buniatishvili is a magical storyteller when she wants to be, hypnotising the audience in a nocturnal silence that was almost deafening with the spooky denizens of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit; only in the concluding "Scarbo" did doubts creep in about staying power and cumulative force. The pianissimos of three late Brahms intermezzi were spellbinding on Buniatishvili’s ever so slightly self-conscious terms, too; she remained more a kingfisher flashing over the music’s surface than a glider in its broad flow.

This recital was always destined to be the polar opposite of Nikolai Lugansky’s deep musicality in the previous recital of the QEH series, but I’d hoped it would be so in a good way. More best intentions in a return to the dream world with Wilhelm Kempff's exquisite transcription of a Handel Minuet were unravelled as Hyde overwhelmed Jekyll in a final encore that should never have been treated as such, the bluesy toccata finale of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata ripped out of its original context (why, when there are quite a few racy Prokofiev miniatures which do stand by themselves?). Slam on the brakes, Khatia, take time out and put the music first: you’re too phenomenal a pianist to be caught up in the sensationalist whirlwind like this. And don’t be deceived by the half of the public which thinks that’s what virtuoso pianism is all about.


An insightful review. This was my first experience of this pianist - the wonderful programme was the attraction - but I found myself quickly squirming. The major memory lapse in the first movement of Gaspard made me nervous, but a pattern of playing quickly emerged - quick passages were played VERY quickly and without clarity, and slow passages were played without any projection and at a self indulgent pace. The Brahms intermezzi had no sense of the whole - it became an exercise in how quietly she could play, and I felt as if it wasn't for my benefit. And many notes throughout the evening didn't speak, so quietly was she trying to play. The second half was a mess, and it became the first recital i have been to where I couldn't wait for it to be over. She clearly has talent, but no discipline, and no respect for the score. I won't be going near that pianist again.

I have had the privilege to listen to her live many times. This time I caught this concert on the radio... She's amazing. And she plays so in the moment... and who cares about the wrong notes, when the passion, the talent and personality aer there?! And I always like when she plays the Prokofiev bis (one of her favourites) . She gets it out of her system...! I wish her well and success...

I'm glad it's not just me who feels that some of what they heard was a travesty of what the composer deserved. I wasn't there and tuned in late to Radio 3 so missed the first half and caught up in the middle of La Valse. Straightaway it seemed all wrong, the pace rushed headlong, the notes unclear, so much in contrast to Steven Osborne's recording, so clear in my head. I too thought it most odd to take the finale of Prokoviev's 7th sonata out of context as an encore. The pace seemed mad, and so much detail lost in a haze, so utterly different from my memory of a thrilling performance by Peter Donohoe. She is clearly a talented pianist, but who seems at times to belong to what I once heard Garrick Ohlsson call the 'destroy and impress' school of playing. Unfortunately, as the reviewer points out, this is what a large section of the public seems to appreciate most.

I, too, came late to this travesty via Radio 3. The Chopin badly lacked any suitable poise, being marked by choppy headlong confusion punctuated by sudden brief mopping-up. The Ravel was even worse, an utter mess -- indeed no vestiges of a waltz. As I now grimly expected, the Stravinsky was once again so unmusical and garbled that I just had to switch off, and I therefore luckily missed the Prokofiev (which I can only too well imagine)... Destructive, yes, but not at all impressive!

I consider myself to be a fan of Khatia Buniatishvili and have been to many of her concerts in recent years. I was at the QEH last night, and I have to say that I agree with every line of this review. The performance of Ravel's Ondine at the start of the recital was intensely beautiful and bewitching. But in the second half, I really wished that she would just calm down a little and think about what she was doing. Everything that Khatia does is worth listening to and most of it is very special indeed. But maybe if she takes a pause for breath and stops to think a little, then she can move her performances on to the next level and become a very great pianist indeed.

I was in the audience. She's an amazing performer clearly with the potential to play in sublime and transcendental way. I loved her playing of Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit, particularly "Le gibet" , in which her lightness of touch of the b-flat drone made the music sound extremely contemporary. Likewise very much enjoyed the Brahms pieces and the Kempf/Handel encore. But overall I agree with the reviewer, the second half of the concert seemed too much about Khatia and not enough about the music. The Chopin felt particularly punished.

I concur with the reviewer, I was there 3 rows back from the platform. This striking female figure exuding Hollywood style glamour in a fabulous silver sequined gown emerged from the wings. She began with Ravels Gaspard De la Nuit, weaving a magical spell with Ondine. Thereafter her performance for me steadily went downhill, le Gibet was so drawn out to the point of loosing continuity of line and Scarbo became an untidy cacophony. Khatia frequently rushes her fences without thinking intelligently of the overall structure of a work. The 3 Brahms Intermezzi were more successful, she brought a lovely intimacy to op.117 nos 1&2. In op. 118 in A however her tone control became pale and colourless and indeed non-speaking at times in her attempts to play with velvety softness. Better key control required here. After the interval she aggressively took Chopin by the scruff of the neck and gave a somewhat undisciplined account of the 2nd Scherzo. Here again climaxes were rushed and ill judged with blurred passage work,also rhythm and note values were not carefully observed. I agree with the above critic, Stravinskys Petrushka Dances became a ''relentless onslaught'' as indeed was her performance of Ravels wonderfully complex and challenging La Valse. Khatia needs to take time out and rethink. She needs to apply a more rigorous intellectual approach to the various works she chooses. if she could ally this much needed attribute to her already tremendous pianistic flare she could be a true world beater among pianists.

Some critics just cannot appreciate her Concerto In 34D Major.

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