REVIEW: Khatia Buniatishvili, International Piano Series 2013-14, Southbank Centre, London
5 June 2014
Khatia Buniatishvili© Sony
International Piano Series 2013-14
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
You can’t teach stage presence. Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili, 26, has it in spades. Also very pleasing is her ability to produce a range of soft pianissimos that beguile the ear. But there are aspects of her playing that are worryingly awry.
It was brave of her to start with Gaspard de la Nuit (a programme alteration), one of the repertoire’s most demanding works, but the way she conjured up the opening passage was magical, Ondine’s voice heard as a distant apparition above the watery accompaniment. The incessant tolling in Le gibet was skilfully voiced but hardly chilling, especially at such a slow tempo. On the other hand Scarbo was demonically fast, an aspect of Miss Buniatishvili’s playing which is, frankly, her undoing. This is the second time in as many months that I have been at a recital in this hall and heard a pianist with the same phenomenal, staggering dexterity – and been unable to hear much of the music. Is it the acoustic? Did anyone sit out front during the rehearsal and advise on clarity and projection? Of course, the acoustic changes with a full house (which it was last night) but then the artist must adapt. To not hear the notes the composer wrote is one thing, however, but to miss the emotional high point of a work is another: the two big climaxes in Scarbo, which should send a shiver down the spine, went for nothing as Buniatishvili hurtled onwards.
A stage-hand came on to adjust the stool after this but left the stage before the pianist had agreed on the new height. Thus abandoned, she was left to adjust it herself before settling down to three of the slowest and hushed performances of three Brahms Intermezzi I can remember (these had been programmed to open the recital). The sounds Buniatishvili produced were ravishing, the rapt intimacy held the audience spellbound but for this listener it was a manufactured view more concerned with sound production than emotional content. A bouquet was offered by a member of the audience.
The second half of virtuoso works passed by in a blur of incoherency. Buniatishvili left no room for the opening figure of Chopin’s B flat minor Scherzo to breathe, and while the question-and-answer section of the middle part was heart-rendingly done, the passagework after this and in the repeat building to the return of the first subject was despatched so fast that it was impossible to discern what exactly Chopin had written. It made this reviewer tut involuntarily and audibly. La Valse, again delivered with scarcely credible speed and venom, the big glissandos towards the end tossed off with effortless aplomb, had little narrative sense. The couples had danced their way to destruction long before the final pages. Petrushka was, frankly, a bang fest. Wild applause.
Buniatishvili’s best playing came with the first of her two encores, Wilhelm Kempff’s arrangement of Handel’s Minuet in G minor HWV 434. Her poise and quiet hands made for a moving few minutes and showed that underneath her untamed temperament lies a real musician with a great gift. She then launched into a crude version of the Precipitato finale of Prokofiev’s 7th Sonata, a silly choice as it replicated the motoric writing of Petrushka. It ended a deeply frustrating and disappointing evening – and I write this as a fervent admirer of Miss Buniatishvili. Someone needs to sit her down and channel her manic delivery into something more musical.
New BBC Four documentary on John Ogdon
22 May 2014
A documentary on the life of John Ogdon will be broadcast on BBC Four in June.
John Ogdon – Living with Genius examines the turbulent life of one of Britain’s greatest pianists.
The documentary, directed by Zoe Dobson and produced by back2back productions, features footage from the 1962 Tchaikovsky Competition which launched Ogdon on to the world stage. Ogdon’s wife, the pianist Brenda Lucas, and their children Richard and Annabel are also interviewed.
After his success in 1962 as the first British finalist to win the International Tchaikovsky Competition (where he was awarded joint first prize with Vladimir Ashkenazy), Ogdon toured and recorded widely, both as a soloist and as a duo with his wife. He had an enviable ability to sight-read and memorise complex scores, and gave many first performances of new works. He was also an accomplished composer.
Ogdon struggled with mental health issues throughout his life. He died 25 years ago in August. The article ‘Remembering John’ in the latest edition of IP (issue 25, May/June 14) explores his piano prowess, in conversation with his biographer Charles Beauclerk.
The documentary is followed by John Ogdon: A Musical Tribute at 8.30pm, a tribute concert performed by pianist Peter Donohoe, which was recorded earlier this year.
John Ogdon – Living with Genius is on BBC Four Friday 6 June 2014, 7.30pm
Martin James Bartlett wins BBC Young Musician 2014
19 May 2014
Martin James Bartlett, 17, has been named the winner of BBC Young Musician 2014.
The final of BBC Young Musician 2014 took place on 18 May at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. The three finalists performed with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirill Karabits in front of an audience.
Pianist Alice Sara Ott was on the judging panel, alongside composer James MacMillan, conductor Alice Farnham, percussionist Colin Currie and recorder-player Michala Petri.
Martin James Bartlett performed Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
The runners up were percussionist Elliott Gaston-Ross (15) and recorder-player Sophie Westbrooke (15).
The finals are available to watch online here
Martin James Bartlett named BBC Young Musician keyboard finalist
13 May 2014
Martin James Bartlett, 17, has won the keyboard category final of BBC Young Musician.
Bartlett, from Hornchurch, Essex, impressed the judging panel – which included pianists Ashley Wass and Noriko Ogawa – with a varied recital. Bartlett gave a controlled performance of Bach’s Partita No 2, Capriccio, followed by the Petrarch Sonnet 104 by Liszt. He closed with a witty rendition of Moszkowski’s Etincelles and the fourth movement from Barber’s Piano Sonata Op 26. The judges praised his programming and Wass observed that Bartlett conveyed a ‘compelling level of musicianship’.
The other finals were Isata Kanneh-Mason (17), Hayley Parkes (18), Ning Hui See (18) and Julian Trevelyan (15).
Bartlett – who also competed in the 2012 instalment of the competition – will participate in the semi finals, broadcast on BBC Four on Saturday 17 May at 7pm. He joins strings category winner, William Dutton (19), percussionist Elliott Gaston-Ross (15), woodwind champion Sophie Westbrooke (15) and the as-yet unknown brass finalist (to be announced 16 May).
The BBC Young Musician 2014 final will take place at Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Sunday 18 May. It will be broadcast the same day on BBC Four at 7pm and on BBC Radio 3 at 7:30pm.
Over 450 entries were received for the contest from musicians aged between 8-18 years old. Former winners and finalists include Benjamin Grosvenor, Stephen Hough, Leon McCawley and Lucy Parham.
The keyboard finals are available to watch online here
RNCM students past and present collaborate on new single in support of concert hall campaign
2 May 2014
Daniel Parkinson and David Schofield pictured in the soon-to-be completed concert hall© Tom Gradwell
Daniel Parkinson conducts RNCM strings© Tom Gradwell
Stephen Hough arranged the music for piano and strings© Andrew Crowley
RNCM postgraduate conductor Daniel Parkinson and students from the School of Strings have teamed up with British pianist and Junior RNCM alumnus David Schofield to release a charity single in aid of Your RNCM.
A new version of the famous Londonderry Air, or 'Danny Boy' as it’s more commonly known, will be released through all major online stores on Monday 19 May with proceeds going towards Your RNCM, the College’s £3m campaign to transform its 40-year-old Concert Hall into a state-of-the-art venue.
Recorded at the Manchester-based college earlier this month, the single was arranged for piano and strings by RNCM alumnus Stephen Hough, with original orchestration by Ross Clarke.
Parkinson, who is currently studying for an MMus in Solo Performance (Conducting), said: ‘The refurbished Concert Hall will provide a platform for artistic excellence at the RNCM. This campaign single came about thanks to the RNCM's policy of encouraging and supporting students' creativity as well as its ability to think out of the box. It has been a pleasure bringing together such a talented group of people to produce the track and I hope that it is successful in creating awareness and raising money for such a vital campaign.’
Schofield, who studied at Junior RNCM before joining Chetham’s School of Music and the Chicago College of Performing Arts, added: ‘The RNCM played a major role in my early musical education and it is so nice to play a part in this single and give something back to both the College and Manchester. Stephen Hough and my good friend Ross Clarke have done an exceptional job on both the piano part and orchestration - it captures so well the meaning of the piece of music and is great to perform.
‘I was in the Concert Hall a few weeks ago and seeing the progress is amazing; it’s not only a great addition to the College but to musicians across the world. I have been so lucky to work with an amazing team of people on this project and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a classical number one on Sunday 25 May.’
Your RNCM officially launched in October 2013. To date, the College has raised almost half of its £3m target and work on the transformation, completed by Styles & Wood, is well underway. Incorporated in the plans is a complete redevelopment of the Concert Hall to include a new air-conditioning and heating system, new flooring and seating, advanced technical facilities and lighting, in addition to a balcony and raised floor area to considerably increase capacity. The backstage production areas of both the Concert Hall and RNCM Theatre will also be reconfigured to support increased student numbers and provide a professional learning environment at industry standard.
The RNCM Concert Hall closed to the public on 27 January. It will officially reopen later this year.