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Khatia Buniatishvili (piano),
*Gvantsa Buniatishvili (piano)
rec. Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin, 15-19 April 2013
SONY CLASSICAL 88885 734622 [63.45]

This pianist has already recorded two albums for Sony, one consisting of selections from the piano music of Liszt and the other of Chopin, including the Second Piano Concerto. Here she presents a very wide-ranging collection of what appear to be her personal favourites. These extend from the baroque to the present day. It comes furnished with a very gushing booklet note by Hannah Dübgen, which refers to the works included as "quiet, intimate pieces that imply a quest rather than a sense of blatant triumphalism." This highlights the problem with the disc: the lack of any contrast of mood, despite the wide historical net that the selection casts. As such it seems designed to address the pianist's own admirers, or to act as background music to a quiet soirée, rather than to illustrate the range of Khatia Buniatishvili's considerable talents. There is no evidence here of the barnstorming virtuosic approach that occasioned complaints from several critics at her Queen Elizabeth Hall recital in London during June 2014 - although not at Seen and Heard. The same critics also however complained that she has been overly enthusiastically promoted by her record company. This complaint is given some substance by the booklet notes provided with this issue.

Then again this review should not be coloured by the hype that Sony have provided. We should simply address what we are given in musical terms. The pianist begins promisingly with a laid-back and not over-romanticised delivery of Egon Petri's Bach arrangement - not the slightest hint of barnstorming here. By the fourth track, when we reach Debussy's Clair de lune, we get a suggestion of the pianist being simply too relaxed. She begins at a very slow speed, gradually picking up pace in the middle section and delivering some beautifully poised arpeggiated chords; but there is a sense of the impressionistic mistiness distancing the listener from the music. Debussy can be more clearly delineated than this without ruining the atmosphere. The Ravel Pavane too could have done with more contrast.

On the other hand, Buniatishvili shows a most commendable desire to introduce her audience of fans to some modern music which they might otherwise avoid. Few of them will have heard the music of her fellow-Georgian Kancheli, and his little piece When almonds blossomed - drawn from his score for the eponymously entitled film - will win him legions of new admirers. The track from Ligeti's Musica ricertata, which follows far too quickly on from the dying fall of the Kancheli, displays a sense of quiet bravura. It is good to hear this music in the context of more popular pieces.

In the later stages of this disc there are some tracks which enable Buniatishvili to demonstrate her bravura technique. She is well up to the demands of the two études by Chopin and Scriabin. We are given another more upbeat item in the shape of one of Dvořák's Slavonic dances, in which Buniatishvili and her sister make a strong impression. The pianist's own arrangement of the Georgian folksong Vaguiorko ma is charming. The Pärt Für Alina which concludes the recital makes for a very quiet ending indeed.

By and large then this disc, except for the pianist's fans, is largely a recital for relaxing and chilling out. It might be advisable not to play it right through at one sitting. Rather longer gaps between items might have helped, too.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Track listing

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sheep may safely graze, BWV208/9 (arr. Egon Petri) [4.50]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Seasons: October, Op.57b/10 [4.51]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Song without words in F sharp minor, Op.67/2 [1.44]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Suite bergamasque: Claire de lune [5.35]
Giya KANCHELI (b. 1935)
When almonds blossomed [2.08]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Musica ricertata: No 7 [2.49]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Intermezzo in B flat, Op.117/2 [5.10]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Wiegenlied, S198 [3.09]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dance in E minor 'Dumka', Op.72/2* [3.18]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une infante defunte [5.55]
Frederick CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Étude in C sharp minor, Op.25/7 [4.39]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Étude in C sharp minor, Op.2/1 [2.24]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in E, K380 [2.52]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Pieces: Homesickness, Op.57/6 [3.44]
Traditional arr Khatia BUNIATISHVILI (b. 1987)
Don't you love me? [2.36]
George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Minuet in G minor, HWV 434 (arr. Wilhelm Kempff) [3.50]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Für Alina [5.03]