Khatia Buniatishvili’s Schubert: Artistic or Airheaded?

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 10

Khatia Buniatishvili continues to toe a line between airheaded and artistic music making in this Schubert release. She plays the great B-flat sonata’s long first movement in a compulsively affetuoso manner, splintering the music into unrelated fragments that alternately dawdle, speed up, press forward brusquely, and simper sentimentally. One phrase may transpire in a gauze of pedal with the hands ever-so-slightly unsynchronized, while a normally lyrical passage might get the dry and detached treatment.

By contrast, the pianist maintains a more-or-less steady pace throughout the Andante sostenuto. While the music’s long lines and patient dramatic build hangs by a thread by way of Buniatishvili’s protracted tempo, she displays a level of concentration and focus that her antsy first movement glaringly lacks. The Scherzo readily absorbs Buniatishvili’s skittish accents and tapered phrase endings. While I find the inherent hesitancy of Buniatishvili’s myriad rubatos in the Finale more appropriate than jaunty forthrightness, they ultimately come off sounding preplanned and predictable.

To call the pianist’s outsized dynamics and grotesquely exaggerated tempos in the C minor Impromptu a caricature is putting it kindly. One cannot deny Buniatishvili’s fleet-fingered wizardry as she subjects the E-flat Impromptu’s rapid scales to a smorgasbord of articulations and stresses, even though her approach seems better suited to Moszkowski etudes. In this context her robust yet sensitive shaping of the G-flat Impromptu surprises. So does her crisp delineation of the A-flat Impromptu’s main theme, even if her tempo adjustments in the Trio section are a mite theatrical.

Yet, again, exaggeration proves Buniatishvili’s undoing in the Schubert/Liszt Ständchen. The music’s multi-textured layers are laboriously dissected under a microscope and rendered dead on arrival, further abetted by the pianist’s tendency to telegraph sudden pianissimos. Listen to the aged Horowitz’s ravishingly detailed and sung out recording, and you’re in a different world. Buniatishvili offers vague poetic musings about Schubert and femininity in the form of mercifully brief booklet notes. The engineering is everything one can want from a piano recording.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: D. 960: Fleisher (Vanguard); Andsnes (EMI), D. 899: Lupu (Decca); Perahia (Sony)

  • SCHUBERT, FRANZ:
    Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat D. 960; Impromptus D. 899; Ständchen D. 957 No. 7 (transcribed by Franz Liszt)
  • Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)

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