Khatia Buniatishvili’s Chopin is not only my favorite of the Chopin albums released this year, it’s my favorite classical release of 2012 so far and is competing with Emanuel Ax’s Chopin: Scherzos & Mazurkas as my favorite Chopin collection of all time. Like Chopin himself, Georgian pianist Buniatishvili was a child prodigy who continues to garner high praise through her adult life. She credits the influence of Georgian folk music for the “aura of elegant solitude and even melancholy” in her playing. Her nimble fingers are a perfect fit for the classical piano master’s compositions and her selection from his work is superbly diverse. Buniatishvili’s Chopin is an absolutely exquisite collection.
The album opens with the “Tempo giusto” theme of “Waltz in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 64/2,” which was the companion piece to Chopin’s more popular “Minute Waltz.” The waltz truly glides like a graceful dancer beneath Khatia’s lithe hands. It’s a stunning beautiful yet subtle beginning to the recording.
Four of the album’s tracks are devoted to the foreboding “Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 35,” a.k.a. “The Funeral March.” Khatia’s slight quickening of the tempo only serves to increase the dramatic tension of the piece.
The first movement (“Grave – Doppio movimento”) begins with a suspenseful frenetic pace, but soon melts into delicately melodic swirls before rising again like a Phoenix from the fire.
The Sonata’s second “Scherzo” movement is another favorite, as Khatia’s fingers seem to transform the piano into a whirling carousel.
The melancholy for which Khatia is so often credited (or accused?) is especially, beautifully evident in the popular third movement — “March fune’bre, Lento” — of Chopin’s elegant dirge.
I appreciate her light approach to the work. All too often overeager pianists crash their way through the main theme as if attempting to strangle the morbid drama from the piece. Yet Khatia’s soft touch elicits an almost wistful beauty and seamless flow from the inherently ominous march.
“Ballad No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52” is so very, very pretty. It could be a lullaby save for the tension that seems to lurk just beneath the surface of the melody.
“Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21” suddenly explodes into a full symphony as Khatia is joined by Orchestra de Paris under Paavo Järvi. The third movement, “Allegro vivace,” is particularly fantastic as Khatia’s chiming piano tangos with the string and horn sections of the orchestra.
The album includes a bonus video of Khatia’s short film, “Warsaw-Paris.” You can watch the video here.
*Note: Soundcloud streams uploaded by artist, Khatia Buniatishvili