Saturday, 11 March 2017

Khatia Buniatishvili plays Rachmaninov

Looking at the new CD that arrived in the post, I get the impression it features the music and playing of Khatia Buniatishvili. She appears to be playing the music that some old Russian, Sergei Rachmaninov, has been commissioned to arrange for her and an orchestra. Thus nine photos or images of the glamorous Ms Buniatishvili, and not one of the scowling arranger of the music (though the does get a credit in the text). One wonders exactly whom these major record companies think they are trying to attract. There are presumably lots of disappointed purchasers who discover that Ms Buniatishvili is not actually singing sultry love songs, or stripping, on this new CD.

Well, more than enough of the booklet; on with the music and the playing. No danger of me being curmudgeonly about Ms Buniatishvili's playing of the piano; I am a declared fan. I also like Mr Rachmaninov's arrangements of music for Ms Buniatishvili's piano and orchestra in his second and third piano concertos on this CD. Competition in both concertos is, of course, ferocious. Despite the nay-saying of various expert critics during the previous century, Rachmaninov's music has lived on and on in popular esteem over the decades. Being Khatia Buniatishvili, there are many tigress moments, of course, but she can also play with a touching simplicity, as in the adagio of the C minor concerto. She is a tigress who also knows how and when to relax. The first movement cadenza of the third concerto is here a real tour de force. Throughout the two concertos, the dark sound of the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Paavo Järvi is entirely appropriate for Rachmaninov's Russian gloom and aching nostalgia.

How do the recordings of the two concertos here stack up against the great players of the past: Rachmaninov himself, Horowitz, Moiseiwitsch, Richter, Argerich .. and almost anyone else one can think of? The answer, I think, is that the performances should be taken in their own right, with a fascinating pianist, an admirable orchestra, and an excellent modern recording. When I want to listen to the second or third of Rachmaninov's concertos, will I reach out my hand for Buniatishvili? Very definitely; there is so much to enjoy in these two performances and, like all the big Romantic works that also involve an orchestra, a good, modern recording quality is a great asset.

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