New Classical Tracks - Hommage to Liszt at 200

by Julie Amacher
October 11, 2011

Listen New Classical Tracks - Hommage to Liszt at 200
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Khatia Buniatishvili - Franz Liszt (Album Art)

Khatia Buniatishvili is a 24-year-old Georgian pianist who's just released her debut recording. Martha Argerich has praised this young pianist for her astonishing musical imagination and her brilliant virtuosity. Violinist Gidon Kremer sees her as one of the greatest talents to surface in recent years. Critics note an aura of elegant solitude, even melancholy in Buniatishvili's playing. She's OK with that because as far as she's concerned the piano is a "symbol of musical solitude." Buniatishvili finds herself exploring that solitude in the music of the great Romantic composer Franz Liszt. For her, Liszt is the only composer with the ability to reflect her every mood. That's why she always knew her first recording would be a portrait of Franz Liszt. And, her timing aligns perfectly with the composer's 200th birth anniversary.

Franz Liszt was a rock star! He led a multifaceted life as a Romantic composer, piano virtuoso, inventor, playboy and popular icon. On her new recording, Khatia Buniatishvili decided his Sonata in B minor would be the main axis by which to enter his world. The sonata comes from Liszt's Weimar years in the mid 19th century. Despite his popularity as a concert pianist, Liszt abandoned the performance stage in 1847, and settled in Weimar where he composed some of his most important masterpieces. All of the works on this recording come from his Weimar years, including his ground-breaking Sonata in B minor. This sonata is constructed using five different themes with varying moods integrated brilliantly inside one continuous movement. Buniatishvili highly admires Argentine pianist Martha Argerich, who is one of today's great interpreters of this sonata, yet she doesn't try to emulate Argerich. Buniatishvili's interpretation is very personal, very powerful.

Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1 reflects the legend of Faust, which some also see as the unofficial libretto for the Sonata in B minor. During the dance at the village inn, Mephistopheles invites the musicians to perform. Sparkling scales, sudden shifts in harmonies, and spiky staccato chords set the stage for this tantalizing dance. Buniatishvili's musical storytelling is alluring, pulling you in to hear every nuance of this legendary tale.

"La Lugubre Gondola" ("The Funeral Gondola") was composed by Liszt shortly before the death of his son-in-law, Richard Wagner. Buniatishvili says this work is like death, "atonal - incomprehensible and at the same time logical." It's like a swan song, with a whole-tone scale faintly shimmering at the end. The final G sharp is almost like a question mark leaving you wondering about life after death.

On this disc, that last fading note of "La Lugubre Gondola" leads directly into Liszt's transcription of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in A minor. From death springs new life. Liszt described Bach's works as a "healthy diet for every pianist." During his Weimar years he wrote several transcriptions of Bach's organ preludes and fugues for piano. He wanted to preserve the great works of the Baroque master eliminating only the organ's pedals from his transcriptions. Khatia Buniatishvili shows off her technical virtuosity in Bach's prelude and fugue in A Minor.

Liszt wrote three pieces called "love dreams" - "Liebestraume." This new recording opens with the most famous one, No. 3 3 in A Flat Major. This piece started life as a setting of a love poem. In this musical setting it becomes a hymn to love. Khatia Buniatishvili offers a lyrically beautiful interpretation of his simple love song.

As you listen to Khatia Buniatishvili's debut recording you'll hear that she understands that Franz Liszt was more than flashy virtuosity. In subtle ways, his work influenced a century of Romantic music and performers. I agree with Martha Argerich. This young Georgian pianist has astonishing musical imagination and brilliant virtuosity.