Rising Star: Khatia Buniatishvili

Alte Oper Frankfurt, Mozartsaal
Friday 17 February 2012
Khatia Buniatishvili
Piano Recital: Haydn, Liszt, Schubert, Stravinsky

(c) C.J. Wesley

She is beautiful in her innocent baby blue summer dress, her lips fiery red and thick, dark curls framing her face, not to mention her astonishing figure. But there’s also something else: real talent. The Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili is only 25 and started performing on many important international stages at the age of 10, her debut album being released in 2011. I first heard of her while I was doing my work experience at the BBC and so I was more than glad to hear that she was playing in Frankfurt.

Starting out with Joseph Haydn’s Sonata in C minor Hob. XIV:20 (1771;1780) Khatia shows off her precision and her dynamical skill. The rather moving first movement Allegro moderato is followed by a calm and soothing Andante con moto, where she proves that emotional piano playing can be pleasingly unobtrusive, yet very honest. The final Allegro requires great fingering skills and a fluent right hand movement. To me the work itself seemed quite pale though in comparison to the following oeuvre – Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B minor LW A 179 (1852/53). The much discussed piece is really difficult to play, even Béla Bartók said that he didn’t fully understand it. The Sonata is not split up into the usual three movements, but into many little ones, all blending into each other. Khatia tackled the demanding passages with great conviction and soul, making it exciting for the audience both to listen to and watch, her trademark hair practically covering her whole face when she threw her head back in eagerness. I was amazed at how jazzy the Sonata sometimes sounded, how extremely complex the structure was and by how Khatia managed to perform with such lightness.

Liszt’s transcriptions of Franz Schubert’s songs made the latter much more known in Europe, because they were not relying on the German language – Liszt managed to make them independet piano works. Khatia performed three of them: ‘Ständchen’ (1828), ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ (1814) and ‘Erlkönig’ (1815). It was beautiful to see how Liszt transformed the works and how precisely the artist implemented his intentions. Especially the ‘Erlkönig’ left the audience almost speechless, as Khatia almost jumped out of her piano stool with fervour.

The last part of the concert featured Igor Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka(1910/11) and was a more intricate piece.

(c) B. Hunger

The three movements (originally four in the ballet version) blended into each other, telling the life story of the wooden puppet Pétrouchka. It required lots of strength from the pianist and a lively, engaged play. Even Khatia’s mimics resembled those of a puppet sometimes, in a cute and funny way.

The audience was thrilled and demanded three encores by applauding for so long, amongst them Liszt’s Liebestraum (a sigh went through the crowd). What I can say is that Khatia Buniatishvili is on her way to become a huge performer, internationally known and loved, mostly because of her charisma and her talent. Lang Lang, for example, who released a Liszt album as well in 2011 (since it was Liszt’s 200th anniversary year), is not half as modest, authentic and sympathetic as her, and I daresay also not as talented. A joy to watch and to listen to.

Do visit her website, especially her album promotion video, where she slips into the roles of Gretchen, Faust and Mephisto, is worth watching!

(c) Esther Hase

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