About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Poetry’s Uplift and Downfall

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
10/19/2023 -  
Erik Satie: Gymnopédie No. 1
Johann Sebastian Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3, BWV 1068: 2. Air (transcr. Buniatishvili) – Prelude and Fugue in A Minor BWV 543 (transcr. Liszt)
Franz Schubert: Impromptu in G‑flat Major, D. 899, No. 3 – Ständchen, D. 957, No. 4 (transcr. Liszt)
Franz Liszt: Consolation No. 3 in D Flat Major – Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C‑Sharp Minor (transcr. Vladimir Horowitz)
François Couperin: Les Baricades mistérieuses
Frédéric Chopin: Prelude in E Minor, Opus 28, No. 4 – Mazurka in A Minor, Opus 17, No. 4 – Scherzo No. 3 in C‑Sharp Minor, Opus 39 – Polonaise in A‑Flat Major, Opus 53

Khatia Buniatishvili (Pianist)

K. Buniatishvili (© Esther Haase)

A lover does not long for one today and another tomorrow.
He cannot endure love’s parting or absence from her whom he worships.
Such sport is shameful, base, more like the trifling of boys.
The lover is he who suffers the whole world’s woes and sorrows.

Shota Rustaveli (13th Century Georgian poet)

For just one dance/The whole kingdom/Will be spread under your feet like a carpet;/For just a single dance/Thousands of heads will bow before you/And you will choose the only one/That will lead you into infinity.
Bela Chekurishvili (20th Century Georgian poet)

Glancing at the recital program for Khatia Buniatishvili, I was frankly confused. A total of 11 pieces, virtually all familiar to even the most casual concert‑goes. A non-chronological mixture of Satie, Chopin, Liszt and Couperin. No intermission. And–except for Ms Buniatishvili’s stylistic idiosyncrasies–usually tasteful, one or two wretched–no surprises.

Ms Buniatishvili has a fabulous reputation for the most wide‑ranging music. Her last album included music from Chopin to Arvo Pärt to John Cage’s 4’33”. So how did she choose these works?

The answer lay in a note she penned for the program. Not worth repeating in full, but the essence was the following: “The labyrinth (in life) is pain, doubts...It is the intellect which finds relief...,the polyphony of life...,the evasive future, the labyrinth of our mind.

While uncertain of the meaning, evidently these are the words of a very sensitive soul, a Georgian‑born poet in words: and as she proved last night, a very sensitive musician.

On the good side, her soft quiet works were sometimes like poetry unheard, sometime ethereal. She started with Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie. Ms Buniatishvili didn’t play it as a Greek game, but as a supplication, motionless, whispered, slow, reverent. And followed with an equally reverent Chopin Prelude.

One realized at this point that Ms Buniatishvili wore her heart not on her sleeve but in her fingers. She was never afraid of retarding a measure or even giving a suspension or two. That was true for a splendid Schubert Impromptu. Schubert might have said, “Get on with the damned thing. It’s an impromptu, not an obsequy.” But it was still effective.

The audience was reverently silent. No indications whether we should listen as one work or we should applaud. The solution? When Ms Buniatishvili finished a piece loudly and fast, showing her fabulous fingerwork, the auditorium burst into wild ovations. Other works heard in silence.

The first ovation-maker was Chopin’s Scherzo, fiery, tempestuous, yet somehow with little regard for the subtleties of the work. Yes, her fingers easily tumbled down the scale (with an occasional stumble), but at least she showed her incendiary feelings.

Alas, her Polonaise was simply a wreck. Of course it should be packed with a tour de force of chromatic runs, leaps and trills. Ms Buniatishvili started with piano lines such fervid lines, such blurred insensitive harmonies that nobody could imagine this to be a Polish dance. It resembled machine-guns going off in all directions, some obviously–like the supposed rocket on a Gaza hospital–in the wrong direction.

Still, she performed some wonderful other works, like her own transcription of Bach’s “Air on the G String”. Rather, her transcription was pleasant–and abbreviated to a mere five minutes. She didn’t transcribe Francois Couperin’s mysterious clavier. But she chose to make it entirely pianistic, pedals consistently compressed, the piano far far smoother than any harpsichord had the right to be.

One could not fault her four Liszt pieces. The two Consolations were played with discernment, with clarity, with composure. I had never heard Liszt’s transcription of Bach’s A Minor Prelude and Fugue. The Prelude was High Romantic passion. The fugue a quantum equation of lines and chords. It didn’t sound much like Bach. But give Liszt his due–and his audacious originality.

And what can one say about the Horowitz transcription of Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody? This is high drama–or kitschy fireworks. An entrant for any piano competition–or the background (as it was) for a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Ms Buniatishvili was happy to descend from her Olympic standards and her self‑contained poetry and imagination. She let herself finally let loose, bending over the keyboard so low that I thought her hair might get caught in the keys.

The recital was certainly impressive, sometimes inspiring. And if I had reservations about her style, I had no hesitancy in the delight of her fingers, and the integrity to her beliefs.

Harry Rolnick



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com