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Liszt: Sonata in B minor; Prelude and Fugue in A minor, S462/1 (after JS Bach, BWV 543); Liebestraum in A flat: Notturno, S541/3; La lugubre gondola No. 2,S200/2; Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (The Dance in the Village Inn), S514

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Sonata in B minor; Prelude and Fugue in A minor, S462/1 (after JS Bach, BWV 543); Liebestraum in A flat: Notturno, S541/3; La lugubre gondola No. 2,S200/2; Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (The Dance in the Village Inn), S514
PERFORMER: Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 88697766042

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‘I was always aware that my first recording had to be a portrait of Liszt,’ says Khatia Buniatishvili in her stupefying booklet note. ‘Only he would enable me to present as a unity the many aspects of my soul.’ Well, pardon my ignorance: I always thought a performer’s prime duty was to convey the essence of the composer, not of themselves. The booklet is better read after a stiff drink, and yet there’s some dumbfounding playing in the B minor Sonata and Mephisto Waltz No. 1: sometimes wildly impulsive, rhapsodic, full of manic, quasi-improvisational spurts of tempo and extravagant rubato. In its deranged conviction this remarkable debut CD is diametrically opposed to the magisterial perfection of Nelson Freire’s outstanding Liszt recital – Harmonies du soir, Ballade No. 2 in B minor and the Six Consolations, among other works – which I recently reviewed in these pages (Instrumental Choice, July 2011). But this is probably how they played in the 19th century; we might be listening to the young Ignacy Paderewski.

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As a result of the focused intensity and sumptuous beauty of tone that Buniatishvili brings to Liebestraum No. 3 we seem to be hearing this hoary old standard afresh. That mesmeric sense of inwardness is here, too, in the transcription of the Bach A minor Prelude and Fugue – which feels at first like a hallucinatory extension of her eloquently desolate account of the near-atonal Lugubre gondola No. 2. There’s not a trace in this recital of Liszt’s philosophical depth, but once you get beyond the self-regarding aspects of the exercise there’s plenty to admire. Sony’s sound is fantastic. Calum MacDonald