CHOPIN: Waltz in C-sharp Minor; Piano Sonata No. 2 "Funeral March"; Ballade No. 4; Piano Concerto No. 2; Mazurka in A Minor; Bonus: short film with Khatia Buniatishvili – Khatia Buniatishvili, p./ Orch. de Paris/ Paavo Jarvi – Sony Classical

by | Oct 23, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

CHOPIN: Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35 “Funeral March”; Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21; Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4; Bonus: A short film by and featuring Khatia Buniatishvili – Khatia Buniatishvili, piano/ Orchestre de Paris/ Paavo Jarvi – Sony Classical Enhanced CD 88691971292, 65:44[9/17/12] ****:
Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili (b. 1987) considers Frederic Chopin a wanderer, a poet of singularly personal melancholy, and the selection of pieces for this recital (rec. September 2011- March 2012) reflect the rather androgynous conceit that Chopin expresses as we enter a restrained introspective aura, with the rising sixth’s yearning for an erotic freedom that sighs instead of exults in the brilliant fioritura that gains acceleration with each Persephone’s lament in the thralls of winter.  From the outset of the C-sharp Minor Waltz, repetition. The dynamic range, too, remains subdued and stately, an aristocrat’s stoicism. This disc represents the pianist’s first appearance with an orchestra.
Having just attended a Cecile Licad recital in which her opening Grave – Doppio movimento assumed the ferocity of the lioness, including the taking of the first movement repeat – which Khatia Buniatishvili does not – we still feel the aggressive energy of the first movement, conceived as a Byronic confrontation of martial and wistful forces. But the true battle seems to emerge in the Scherzo, with its blistering octaves, leaps, and double notes that suddenly yields to a major-key central section, the shift having been from E-flat Minor to a warm G-flat Major. Buniatishvili lulls us into a kind of romantic submission until the da capo once more raises the frenetic sacred fire. We must recall that Chopin composed the Funeral March first (c. 1837) and built his Sonata around it. Even if Ms. Buniatishvili’s looks did not remind me of Italian actress Anna Magnani, her temperament would. The epic character of the tragic drama plays out in lustrous piano tones, the elegiac middle section tear-laden pearls or silver droplets. The manic Presto finale, marked by single notes an octave apart in each hand, elicits from Buniatishvili an unnerving series of convulsions, barely staying upright in the midst of staggering internal upheavals.
The F Minor Ballade (1842) may have its origins in the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, but the monumental piece ranges over a series of emotions, tragic and rebellious, that quite transcend the notion of the folk “ballad.”  As an example of Chopin’s late harmonic syntax and contrapuntal mastery, the piece stands in a class by itself.  Buniatishvili negotiates its mercurial textures and sound clusters with pearly and reverent articulation, the effect a throbbing sense of palpable eroticism. The passionate surge before the coda culminates in three chords, fff, that quite shatter our complacency and resolve into five chords pianissimo. The last pages ring with power, tragic and defiant at once. Equally poignant but infinitely more compressed, the A Minor Mazurka, with four-bar introduction and triplet, casts an eerie nostalgia on the emotional landscape, an archaic folk dance sounding in drone-effect among the bleak recollections.
Buniatishvili and Paavo Jarvi collaborate in the 1829 F Minor Concerto quite conscious that they want the poet’s Romantic Agony to dominate the atmosphere.  If any older approach seems to inform this rendition, it might be the equally poetic – but significantly less accurate digitally – version by Alfred Cortot and Charles Munch. The relish for the stile brillant and its rhetorical flourishes and sudden ejaculations of speed and concomitant pullings-back seem entirely natural to the sensibility of this performance. The essential monologue character of the writing keeps the solo instrument centered at all times, while the orchestra merely provides color context. The gorgeous Larghetto in A-flat Major signifies an unabashed love song whose middle section attains a wrenching peroration. The last movement, Allegro vivace, transcends the mazurka basis of the folk idiom and becomes a dazzling bravura display to rival Chopin’s model, Hummel. Buniatishvili and Jarvi hustle and canter through its flavored metrics, eminently singing what cannot be sung, dancing what cannot be danced.
[I had thought the enhanced CD was a thing of the past, but a few labels (such as Navona) are still doing it, though not including motion videos. Pop this one in your computer and you get a little film of the glamorous Buniatishvilli doing the sort of things performers do in music videos—tasteful ones at least…Ed.]
—Gary Lemco

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