Khatia Buniatishvili, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London – review

Her performance is the pianistic equivalent of a society wedding photograph, with edges blurred and defining human characteristics removed

Let’s get one thing clear. Khatia Buniatishvili, the 26-year-old Georgian pianist with a Sony recording contract and a high-profile career, is incapable of an ugly note. No matter how fast she plays, no matter what the character of the music, everything comes across the same way – the pianistic equivalent of a society wedding photograph, with edges blurred and defining human characteristics removed. That, at least, was the impression left by her latest London recital, embracing music by Brahms, Chopin, Ravel and Stravinsky.

Her soft-focus style was best suited to the three Brahms Intermezzi that ended the first half: the lullaby element in Op.117 nos 1 and 2 and Op.118 no 2 was well served, the soothing intimacy of the music enhanced by the mirage of sound that Buniatishvili cast over it.

In Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, which had opened the evening, she glossed over the darker, demonic elements that are crucial to its personality. “Ondine” had a surprisingly small expressive range and next-to-no dynamic contrasts. The desolation of “Le gibet” was airbrushed out in favour of zen-like meditation. As for “Scarbo”, there was an alarming lack of climax. But this was typical of the whole recital, which revealed Buniatishvili’s reluctance to explore depth and variety of sonority in the keys.

After the interval she skated over the surface of Chopin’s Scherzo no 2, as if determined to make the contours sound mushy. Then, in Ravel’s La Valse – a rare outing for the single-piano version – her glitzy virtuosity came to the fore. Both here and in Stravinsky’s dazzling Three Movements from Petrushka, speed of dispatch constantly triumphed over clarity of articulation.

Buniatishvili is neither careless nor ungifted. She is simply overhyped, immature and preoccupied with beauty of presentation – a poor example to the legions of young pianists who aspire to her fame and fortune. At no point did this recital reveal a shred of the musical temperament we expect of a scion of Georgian musical tradition.

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