MUSSORGSKY Pictures at and Exhibition SCRIABIN Piano Pieces
The common denominator with these two discs is Mussorgsky’s Pictures. Antonii Baryshevskyi then moves on to a sequence of Scriabin. Khatia Buniatishvili makes Pictures part of a concept album entitled ‘Kaleidoscope’, embracing also Ravel’s La valse and the three movements from Stravinsky’s Petrushka, and explaining in the booklet that the disc ‘portrays how a human being perceives snippets of reality at a given time. It’s a human reflex to transform a scene from real life into imagination, so as to integrate it into your own universe.’ Baryshevskyi strives to make his interpretations ‘as personal as possible, featuring new ideas and openness toward new horizons’.
Certainly, both pianists tackle Pictures with an individuality of thought. Baryshevskyi I remember from the 2011 Busoni Competition in Bolzano, where he garnered a host of prizes including the one from the Press Jury, of which I was a member. He was the finals favourite but was allotted joint second place, the Busoni being almost as famous for not awarding a first prize as it is for giving the ultimate accolade to the likes of Martha Argerich, Garrick Ohlsson and Louis Lortie. Baryshevskyi dared to be different, and he does so again here. If you prefer your Pictures in bold primary colours, this is not for you, but Baryshevskyi has ideas that penetrate beyond the surface of the canvas to touch facets of emotion that are obviously personal to him and which bring to the exhibition a special perspective. In taking nothing for granted and in searching out the elements of subtlety in Mussorgsky’s sometimes maverick piano-writing, Baryshevskyi has something in common with Buniatishvili, whose interpretation of Pictures again provokes thoughts about the darkness that lies behind some of Mussorgsky’s imagery, though lively scenes such as ‘Tuileries’ and the ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’ lack nothing in brio, lightness and high spirits.
Buniatishvili also possesses a key to the ostensible winsomeness of Ravel’s La valse and, as she describes it in the booklet, the ‘desire for infinite euphoria [that takes] us towards self-destruction’. Eyebrows might be raised, however, about her extremes of speed, which at times rob the music of its essential pulse. The sense of panic, which presumably is allied to her theory of self-destruction, is over-emphasised and self-defeating, but she is finely tuned to the character and colours of the Petrushka pieces. So, too, is Baryshevskyi in his Scriabin, where his searching temperament and his ability to respond to the mix of volatility and suspended animation shows a particular affinity with Scriabin’s language in the Fifth Sonata and, indeed, in the early Preludes and the late Poème, Op 71 No 1. Of the two discs, it is Baryshevskyi’s performances of Scriabin that are the most unequivocally impressive.