Recordings of Schubert's swan song in the piano sonata genre, the Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960, are abundant, and Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili deserves credit for trying something well out of the mainstream. This said, your reaction to the album may correspond to your general orientation toward iconoclasm. Buniatishvili's approach has the virtue of being coherent: she plays Schubert in a Lisztian way, and to underscore this she wraps up the program with Liszt's transcription of the famed song Ständchen, from the Schwanengesang cycle, D. 957. The four Impromptus of Op. 90 strike a nice balance between pianistic freedom and the intimate dimensions of these pieces; sample the final A flat major piece to hear the strongest argument for what Buniatishvili is doing here. She has a good deal of Lisztian charisma and a way of making you listen to what she's doing. The B flat major sonata you may find less satisfying. The opening movement is quite deliberate, with lots of tempo rubato, large dynamic contrasts, and pregnant slowdowns, with an enormous and not fully explicable full stop before the recapitulation begins. Other pianists (Sviatoslav Richter comes to mind) have approached the work this way, but perhaps nobody has taken the slow movement as slowly as Buniatishvili does: she takes more than 14 minutes with it, where most pianists take nine or ten. The last two movements are more conventional, and they can't quite cash the checks that the enormous first two movements are writing. This is a case where your mileage (kilometers?) may definitely vary, but where the artist definitely hasn't made safe choices.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Piano Sonata in B-flat major D.960|
|4 Impromptus D. 899|