LISZT Program – Khatia Buniatishvili, piano – Sony Classical CD + DVD
Published on October 23, 2011
LISZT: Liebestraum in A-flat Major; Sonata in B Minor; Mephisto Waltz No. 1; La lugubre gondola; Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (after BACH: BWV 543) – Khatia Buniatishvili, piano – CD + DVD Sony Classical 88697873852, 67:32; DVD: Franz Liszt: Sonata in B Minor–A Faustian Dream, c. 10 mins.****:
I prefaced my audition of youthful Ms. Buniatishvili’s all-Liszt recital with her brief but fascinating video, A Faustian Dream, in which she sits at the keyboard and muses that Marguerite is a symbol of beauty; Mephisto a symbol of temptation and glamour; and Faust represents the genius who doubts, the artist seeking immortality and love. Then Ms. Buniatishvili (b. 1987) portrays simultaneously a young girl, Faust (looking like Liszt or George Sand in drag), and continues to the play the first three themes from the Sonata in B Minor under her voice-over. Lyrical and just a tad erotic, the androgynous images and the force of her hands at the keyboard whet one’s appetite for the CD recital.
The performances of Liszt from various periods in his creative career enjoy all the enthusiasms and distortions of youth. The opening nocturne, Liebestraum No. 3 in A-flat Major, basks in romantic harmonies and suspended cadences, over-ripe but pregnant with Faust’s innate weakness for beauty and susceptibility to love. The center-piece of the set, the imposing Sonata in B Minor (1853), receives an undue number of pedalings in the course of its thirty-minute traversal of tumultuous passions. The “Mephisto” theme in minor thirds comes hard upon the gypsy scale (on G) that opens the work, a through-composed colossus that interweaves no less than five motives, culminating in the “Grandioso” chorale and its epilogue in songful pianissimo. But whatever quibbles we have as purists of Liszt, Buniatishvili confirms pianist Kirill Gerstein’s thesis that Liszt’s Sonata is Beethoven’s “33rd Sonata,” and that it merely extends the schema already evolving in Beethoven’s treatment of motivic and thematic transformation. The mercurial changes of mood and texture, the uncanny throes of ecstasy and despair, the potent sweep of Liszt’s chromatic harmony and inventive counterpoint, all fall within Buniatishvili’s poetic (and demonic) grasp; and listeners will likely succumb to her poised self-indulgence of romantic ardor in the extended Andante sostenuto section.
The real firebrand performance has to be Buniatishvili’s grand Mephisto Waltz No. 1–The Dance at the Village Inn--the confrontation between Faust and the Devil rendered at dizzying velocities and with staggering dynamic aplomb. If Buniatishvili were endeavoring to rival Vladimir Horowitz or her female counterpart in the late Gina Bachauer, the attempt to climb the same Parnassus as those giants warrants the price of admission. Her espressivo amoroso whispers the rakish conceit by inspirator Nikolaus Lenau that “a lusty whore tastes better than a dusty tome.” No dust gathers on the last pages of this ferocious performance, a Mephisto to singe the eyelashes!
Suddenly, Buniatishvili changes direction and explores both the more experimental and more traditional side of Liszt’s fecund nature, in the forms of his La lugubre gondola (1883) and his transcription of J.S. Bach’s BWV 543 A Minor Prelude and Fugue for organ. The former piece, set as memorial for the passing of Richard Wagner in Venice, conveys an austere, even bitter harmonic gesture built in whole tones on a triad with an added fourth, a diminished seventh of restless watery wandering. The sensibility of a Chopin Nocturne looms over this idiosyncratic waterscape, but the tenor remains eerie, haunted at the conclusion by strummed chords, tolling funeral bells that land on G-sharp.
The latter transcription preserves Liszt’s veneration of J.S. Bach, supplemented by Liszt’s post-1865 urge to take up religious orders and his own sojourn to Weimar, Bach’s old city of residence. If Buniatishvili appears to be playing Cesar Franck, the textural illusion comes as no accident. The beauty of keyboard sound (rec. 10-15 October 2010 in Berlin) adds to our compulsion to return to this fine Liszt recital and to further explore the development of Ms. Buniatishvili as an artist of imposing aesthetic and digital values.