Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 3 performed by Khatia Buniatishvili

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 3
PERFORMER: Khatia Buniatishvili (piano); Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 88985402412

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This is Khatia Buniatishvili’s fifth album for Sony, following recordings of Liszt, Chopin, Ravel, Stravinsky and pieces from the pianist’s native Georgia. While Buniatishvili’s early Liszt impressed, her recent performances have been divisive. Buniatishvili’s sensitivity, lyricism and jubilance – not to mention flawless technique – suits Rachmaninov’s concertos, and her coupling of Nos 2 and 3 is largely enjoyable. Rachmaninov’s concertante writing features complex interplay between soloist and ensemble – something that Buniatishvili and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra achieve to a high level under Paavo Järvi. In No. 2, Buniatishvili shows great restraint, presenting the famous themes with just the right amount of schmaltz. No. 3 – something of a throwback in its day – stands out for its exceptional pianism: luxuriant, exciting and heroic. Buniatishvili’s rubato does not always suit the variety of styles contained within this one work; the first movement begins at an overtly lesiurely pace before racing away. Her cadenza in the third movement flutters tantalisingly, an inhalation before the orchestral sighs of the finale that propel us into an exhilarating romp of chords and strings. Buniatishvili excels here, galloping across the keyboard in a heady swirl of melodies.

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Once upon a time, recordings of No. 3 were relatively rare. However, since Vladimir Horowitz’s seminal discography, Rachmaninov’s highly technical pianism has grown in popularity. Although Buniatishvili has stiff competition from recent recordings by Stephen Hough (Hyperion), Denis Matsuev (Mariinsky) and Yuja Wang (DG), her interpretation stands out for its strength and passion. Claire Jackson