In a small church in Rellingen, Sergei Babayan interprets pieces by Arvo Pärt, Liszt and Bach during the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.
Babayan had composed his programme in masterly fashion around his core competence: to play all-in, with wonderful sensuality and clarity in detail, without losing himself in wide-ranging virtuoso clowneries that would only distract from the essentials. The entire first half of the programme saw Babayan sitting motionless, letting his hands do all the work: like a Japanese calligrapher who contemplates the white paper in front of himself in complete silence until, in the exact right moment, he dashes his brush in a perfect swing. Babayan had carefully woven his programmatic leitmotif into the network of ideas: After Arvo Pärt's meditative miniature of contemplativeness, „Für Alina“, which he speckled softly into the hall as a tenderly floating etude for small bells, Babayan thundered away into the exact opposite with Liszt's B Minor Ballad, presenting crashing bass lines swirling around euphorically sung melodies; it takes nerves of steel to keep all this under control. Babayan even managed to let all this wild rustle and run appear as a spontaneous vision like a large and impulsive mass of lava. Even more striking was this impression with the fantasy „In memoriam Maria Yudina“, composed in 1983 by Khachaturian's student Vladimir Ryabov, completely unknown, filled to bursting with the highest pianistic difficulties and concentrated quotes from late romantic virtuoso repertoire. If this insane piece were a climbing wall, it would be worse than vertical. And yet, here again, Babayan remained entirely calm and focused: unbelievable. And as if nothing had happened until now, he then let his uber-virtuoso self leave for an early interval, and continued instead as the discrete racconteur forming from three charming Chopin pieces a dreamy suite of episodes lost in reverie. His concluding Goldberg Variations might have appeared as a surprising turning back to the baroque, but here again he followed the motto 'As beautiful as possible, as much as strictly necessary'. The aria already was a paradigm of unintrusive elegance, and the subsequent variations kept their softly elastic pulse throughout, as a guideline through this music that never appeared as an artificial construction, but blossomed from within, breathing in self-sufficient delight.
published by Joachim Mischke in the newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt on July 13 2019 (see https://www.abendblatt.de/kultur-live/kritiken/article226473825/Sergey-Babayan-tupft-Etueden-in-den-Hall-der-Rellinger-Kirche.html for reference)