An interesting and unusual combination of works made for an entertaining recital by this super refined young Georgian pianist who has made such a great impression on the musical world in recent years. Mariam Batsashvili kicked off with the rare and beautiful Prélude, Fugue and Variation Op.18 by César Franck. Originally written for organ, this transcription elegantly combines the organ loft with the showmanship of Liszt. The wondrously chromatic tune which dominates the piece is pure Franck, seductive and demure. The fugue opens the door to some big handful of notes, ably navigated by Batsashvili. The sublime return of the theme was magical here.

Mariam Batsashvili © Wigmore Hall
Mariam Batsashvili
© Wigmore Hall

The Ravel Sonatine that followed was a delicious confection in Batsashvili’s hands. She was alive to the ultra-refined textures and found additional subtleties throughout, but particularly in the opening Modéré. The lively and extrovert finale was despatched with effortlessly light-fingered grace.

Sigismond Thalberg was a rival to Liszt and known to have possessed an even more formidable technique. His Grand caprice on Bellini's La sonnambula would certainly have called on much of his reserves of brilliance and technical wizardry. Whether it contains much musical value beyond Bellini’s tunes is debatable, but Batsashvili used the opportunity to share the range of her own apparently limitless keyboard facility.  

However, the most challenging work of the evening, interpretatively and technically, was Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op.12 that followed. It was written during the white-hot early period when his piano works seemed to be both a confessional and somehow a description of the uncertainties of his relationship with his wife to be, Clara. The opposing forces of serenity and angst (Eusebius and Florestan) haunt these eight short pieces, which somehow coalesce into a substantial and satisfying whole. Batsashvili was superb in every way here, able to capture the emotional swings and textures with controlled, yet spontaneous intensity. She was especially successful in the second piece, Aufschwung, with its violent mood shifts, which can sound melodramatic in less perceptive hands. The tenderness in Warum, which followed, demonstrated another gentle side to her musical personality.

Mariam Batsashvili © Wigmore Hall
Mariam Batsashvili
© Wigmore Hall

Liszt’s Paraphrase on a Waltz from Gounod's Faust, is a showman’s piece in the manner of Thalberg's work, but has more to say for itself and with more familiar and attractive source material. As usual with Liszt, the layout of the music across the keyboard is beautifully achieved and when the moments of tightrope fingerwork came, they had a spotlight on them and were thrilling. Batsashvili more than coped with everything Liszt could throw at her. Particular fine right-hand chromatic scales down the keyboard and multiple trills stood out, but the power was there when she needed it too.

Her encore, the Petit caprice “Style Offenbach” by Rossini, with his trademark wit and humour, was thrown off with obvious delight, and this, along with the rest of the evening, gave the impression that this is a pianist who loves what she does and loves sharing her joy and enthusiasm with her audience.