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Khatia Buniatishvili performs Musorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Modest Musorgsky; Maurice Ravel; Igor Stravinsky
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: Musorgsky • Ravel • Stravinsky
WORKS: Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Ravel: La valse; Stravinsky: Petrushka
PERFORMER: Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Sony 88875170032

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Khatia Buniatishvili offers a very individual and often imaginative account of Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Whereas most pianists stride through the opening ‘Promenade’ with a real sense of purpose, Buniatishvili is much more pensive, presenting the musical argument in veiled colours. This dream-world is startlingly interrupted by an unusually sinister account of ‘Gnomus’ in which she marshals a formidably wide range of textures and colours to perfectly convey the malevolence in Musorgsky’s writing. Indeed, the high-octane movements throughout the whole cycle, in particular ‘The Market in Limoges’ and ‘Baba-Yaga’, are suitably demonic, but in ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ Buniatishvili is careful to build up the dramatic intensity rather than going all out for power-house playing whenever the dynamic level rises above forte.

Not everything, however, is so convincing. Although I take Buniatishvili’s point, as expressed in the booklet interview, that ‘The Old Castle’ symbolises ‘infinity’ and the ‘pain of no longer existing’, her playing here is so static that there is a real danger of monotony setting in. Another unexpected moment is the recasting of the opening bars of ‘Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua’ in a major key, as opposed to the minor tonality presented by other interpreters. Frustratingly, no explanation is given for this dramatic alteration of the text.

Of the two other works making up this brilliantly engineered recital, the Ravel La valse is by far the more compelling. Once again Buniatishvili is in her element in delineating the work’s inexorable descent into the abyss. Of course, a similarly dark musical narrative is explored in the Stravinsky Petrushka movements, but despite her technical wizardry, I find Buniatishvili’s relentlessly percussive playing here tends to undermine the wealth of colour and drama in the music.

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Erik Levi