At Teatro Colón, Sergei Babayan presented a programme that embodied perfection. A magical night.
Clarín, 15 August 2022
At Teatro Colón, Sergei Babayan presented a programme that embodied perfection. A magical night.
Clarín, 15 August 2022
The highlight of the evening was the performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor with Armenian-American soloist Sergei Babayan. Memories of other performances of this much-loved concerto were quickly dispelled as Babayan drew us into this ultra-Romantic music from its very first bell-like chords. Babayan’s formidable virtuosity was, of course, impressive, but his performance avoided mere decoration. His torrents of notes served to create a magnificently expressive piece. The dynamics, too were carefully marshalled. The loudest moments were thrilling and the very quiet ones had us listening hard. The surging waves of sound in the largely energetic first movement were followed by a dreamy second movement in which both soloist and orchestra produced some extremely delicate music-making: the reflective melody given first by the flute and then the clarinet was stunning, and indeed a feature of this performance was that many of the orchestral details came into clear focus. Babayan’s incredible fingers dazzled us in the energetic finale. Most of all, soloist and orchestra communicated raw, powerful emotion in a triumphant performance that the audience loved.
Bachtrack, 29 May 2022
Argerich took the upstage piano, but that did not in any way denote a lesser role. The pair threw themselves into the thunderous opening Prologue from Romeo and Juliet with such intensity it drew gasps from the audience. Thereafter they entranced with the sheer power and dazzling command of their playing. At times, no dancer would have been able to compete with their tempi, and certainly no string section could match the breakneck speed they brought to the Death of Tybalt. Later, we left the violence behind to hear dreamlike mazurkas, polkas and polonaises from Prokofiev’s unfinished incidental music for Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades, Argerich and Babayan enjoying their harmonic subtleties and quixotic melodies. But it was in Mozart’s sparkling Sonata in D for two pianos that their brilliant partnership was at its most equal. Close your eyes and it was impossible to tell who was playing what line, so seamless was their joyful passing of the baton. Sheer delight.
The Guardian, 5 March 2022
¡Con qué contrastes plagados de sutilezas encaró Babayan los arpegiados del 11 de ensayo hasta caer en el primer tema! ¡Qué mecanismo y que extasío lució el solista, qué color más cristalino y qué sensibilidad! ¡Qué forma más conmovedora de resolver el intrincado canon con variaciones! Y referencia a tener en cuenta: la majestad sonora del solista no absorbió el acompañamiento de una triada en arco (sutil, vehemente, sutil) de la intervención del instrumental.
Codolario, 31 January 2022
The most startling discovery of the evening opened the latter half, namely the Fantasia in Memory of Maria Yudina by Vladimir Ryabov. Yudina was a major force in Soviet musical and cultural life – it was at her residence that Boris Pasternak did the first reading of Doctor Zhivago – and Stalin was said to have particularly cherished her playing. Ryabov counted Khachaturian amongst his teachers, and wrote the present fantasy in 1983. Stylistically the work is rooted in Romanticism, but tinged with dissonances and the composer’s unique musical language to create something strikingly novel.
Arresting beginnings made unrelenting virtuoso demands from the onset, easily met by steel-fingered Babayan. A powerful funeral march made a particularly strong impact; here and throughout the pianist explored an astonishingly wide color palette. There were passing references to works presumably in Yudina’s repertoire; I caught homages to Schubert, Chopin and Schumann (a gesture from Schumann’s Fantasy in C major was of particular importance, recurring at several inflection points). A relentless series of tone clusters closed the work, eventually fading into the ether.
Bachtrack, 28 October 2021
This is piano playing of the very highest echelon, and Rachmaninov playing that verges on the peerless today.
Music Web International, 15 September 2020
61 Minutes of Piano Heaven. - Babayan’s disciplined rubato, sublimely timed trills, and subtle dynamic shadings throughout the composer’s transcription of his song Lilacs must be heard to be believed.
Classics Today, 11 September 2020
BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Month
The most striking aspect of his interpretation is the way in which he controls rubato, communicating a sense of wonderment when Rachmaninov strays into unexpected and distant keys in a manner that recalls Schubert. An equally thrilling example of Sergei Babayan’s interpretative spontaneity comes in the demonic Etude-Tableau in C minor Op. 39/1. Here Babayan grasps the nettle by hurtling us full speed ahead to the very edge of a cliff – the fluid manner in which he dispatches those accelerating chords near the end of it vividly communicates the sense of danger that underpins this music.
BBC Music Magazine, 8 September 2020
Babayan has a particularly close relationship with the composer’s music, its discovery proving a saving grace to the teenage pianist when he’d all but lost interest in the piano. That is evident from the off, with an enticing A flat Prelude, Op 23 No 8, whose flickering filigree is effortlessly rendered. Even the most well-known pieces here have a freshness that comes not from gimmickry but from a sense of deep connection.
Gramophone, 1 September 2020
A masterclass in how to put the music first.
Norman Lebrecht about 'Rachmaninoff'
Ludwig Van, 28 August 2020
Bei aller Virtuosität erteilt Babayans Spiel dem Klischee der spätromantisch auftrumpfenden Geste eine Absage. Noch den Gefühlsunruhen des ersten (Allegro agitato) oder des fünften (Appassionato) Stücks aus den Etudes Tableaux op. 39 begegnet dieser technisch brillante Pianist mit einer aufgewühlt sprechenden musikalischen Gestaltung, statt mit donnernder Pranke. Das klingt wie ein in sich brodelnder, eruptiver Ausbruch aus einem inneren Monolog. Zugleich kann sein Spiel sich wunderbar glitzernd in den impressionistisch ausgeleuchteten inneren Landschaften der langsamen Stücke verlieren. Alle Schönheit ist zugleich von tiefer Wehmut durchzogen, gemäß Rachmaninoffs Feststellung Musik sei die Schwester der Poesie, aber ihre Mutter sei die Trauer.
Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17 August 2020
Hidden Geniuses: Sergei Babayan in Munich. - Sergei Babayan has often been called one of the greatest pianists of our time, but he has so far remained known mainly among true pianomaniacs. That does not do justice to his pianistic abilities, as he demonstrated in most impressive fashion at Munich's Prinzregententheater. [...] Babayan's wealth of expressive variation stems from much more subtle means, which are to be found in his unbelievably flexible fingers, the Arrau-ean elasticity of his arms, wrists and hands. Babayan's musical expression and power come almost exclusively from these parts of his otherwise virtually immobile body. His hands snuggle against the keyboard, plough through the keys and dance on them elegantly. When at times the middle finger bends way backwards in his playing, thereby deserting the ranks of the other fingers in their dance, as one has seen it before only with Glenn Gould, one understands how many years of hard graft under the rule of the Russian school this extraordinary artist, formed in the Neuhaus tradition, must have spent. [...] Diapason once wrote about Sergei Babayan: 'He smashes all expectations: Pianism, larger than life.' There is no better way to put it. Babayan presented the scintillating contrasts with so much virtuosity in striking inner context, that one was torn between being arrested in one's seat and the urge to jump to one's feet, stunned by the pianistic firework that he let off on the stage. One cannot play the piano better than this.
Bachtrack, 19 March 2019
Sergei Babayan is one of those chosen few: those artists capable of transporting us to their universe, of taking us to a different world. In terms of magic, we had thought in this category of Lupu, Schiff, Volodos, and Sokolov. And we must confirm it here too. I personally see an historic link to Walter Gieseking and Ivan Moravec. When it comes to the experience of the concert itself, only Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli used to have the ability of giving me this sense of irreality that I often felt this Wednesday night.
Le Devoir, 6 December 2018
Unstoppably Volcanic Force: Sergei Babayan.
I missed Sergei Babayan's Verbier recital by a day, but I caught him two weeks later at the Wigmore Hall and I don't have superlatives to do justice to what I heard.[...] In Babayan's performance the ideas poured out in luxurious profusion and with unstoppably volcanic force. [...] What made the whole thing remarkable was the way Babayan seemed to massage the keys calmly even when playing fortissimo; coaxing the most refined sweetness out of Rameau's Le rappel des oiseaux, [...] he caught the most fleeting poetry on the wing. [...] Two of Mozart's most-performed sonatas had me on the edge of my seat with every bar. This wasn't due to any showy 'originality' in his approach; it was simply the white-hot intensity with which they were here conceived. By turns lyrical, operatic and full-on orchestral, his interpretations drew delighted assent from the audience; as did his encore, a familiar Scarlatti sonata played with a most unfamiliar gentleness, after which, hand on heart, he took leave of us with a smile. Bumping into Ryabov in the interval, I said how fascinating I found his composition. 'Ah yes,' he replied. 'But tonight it was played by a genius.' To which I could only agree.
International Piano Magazine, 5 November 2018
Magician of the Piano Sound: Sergei Babayan Wows with Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto. - Sergei Babayan created a major musical event with Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto at the third symphonic concert of the Mannheim Philharmonic. The young orchestra lead by Boian Videnoff were excellent partners in his sensational appearance. Rachmaninov's third Concerto gives pianists around the world shivers of respect - not so for the Armenian-American artist Babayan, celebrated at the most respected venues worldwide, and piano duo partner to Martha Argerich. For the extraordinary challenges of Rachmaninov's concerto seemed not to pose any difficulty whatsoever to him. Babayan came up with all pianistic sorcerer tricks just like that, presented breakneck runs and majestic, thundering chords with stunning ease, thanks to the brilliant, dizzying speed of his hands, a steel-like staccato coming from his wrists and a striking flexibility that were unheard of. But this concert was not only and not primarily about technique and walks on pianistic tightropes. Babayan presented an interpretation that was musically reflected in depth and highly sensitive, exposing the late-romantic feel of the composition and its melancholic, lyrical inspiration. More than that, he knew how to make the piano ring and, even more impressively with a keyboard instrument, how to make it sing. Clearly so with the opening movement: very dark, very still, thoughtful, simple and touching. This beginning already made it clear without ambiguity that Babayan is a magician of the sound.
Die Rheinpfalz, 18 March 2018
Overwhelming energy and romantic frissons - Pianist Sergei Babayan with the Mannheim Philharmonic showed passion that shattered all boundaries. - Rare are these moments that make you start raving, as does Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto. Rarely does the listener traverse such a long buildup to the enthusiastic climax of the finale. But of course this only happens when you have a legendary pianist at the instrument such as Sergei Babayan. He formed the opening melody as if absorbed in thought, dreamily, laying open the field for everything that followed. Exactly as required by Rachmaninov, Babayan showed breathtaking virtuosity and sensitivity, but also the greatest possible pianistic force to finally let overwhelming emotions fulminate from the grand piano.
Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung, 15 March 2018
There are these concerts that richly recoup the reviewer for many nights of utter mediocrity. That is what happened when Sergei Babayan, Armenia-born American pianist, played Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto at the nearly sold-out Mannheim Musensaal. Babayan, who has formed entire generations of pianists in Cleveland and at the Juilliard School including the current shooting star Trifonov, intends to perform in Europe more often. Good for us! What the modest 57-year old offered last night, was nothing short of sensational. From the opening soft immersion into the waves of sound of the first movement (of course presented with the large cadenza) to the nobility of the intermezzo that was brought without sentimentality, to the opulent ecstasy of the finale: This was brilliant, always transparent pianism without artificial showmanship. His encore: Bach's Aria from the Goldberg Variations, beautiful to die for.
Mannheimer Morgen, 14 March 2018
Trifonov/Babayan: Mentor and Student Make a Brilliant Duo. - The pair truly shone. Lyrical lines in octave unisons were balanced so that they didn’t sound as if they were coming from different instruments, but rather from a single piano with a far richer voice than possible with only one. ... We witnessed unity across two generations, two musicians creating a rare, unified voice.
San Francisco Classical Voice, 6 March 2018
The Ballad No. 2 by Liszt hurled us without mercy into the screaming sea of chromatic figures created by the left hand. This piano fumed and roared and thundered and howled, to the point of sound climax. The painful nobility of Chopin became a riveting demonstration. What generosity, what total commitment (as can also be seen in Trifonov's playing), where others economize their forces and remain strictly within the limits defined by the best of taste! Sergei Babayan lays waste to all accepted habits. A larger-than-life piano.
DIAPASON, 30 November 2017
THE SHOCK OF SILENCE. - Babayan's transcriptions emphasize the bloody violence dominating Shakespeare's original drama. The harshness of dissonances - which is so characteristic for Prokofiev's harmonic work, but is softened by the instrumental bandwidth of the symphonic original - gets concentrated in the piano chord and, thus, laid bare in the most merciless fashion. Bruitist, noisy, tumultuous, percussive is this music. The silence between the movements comes almost as a shock. As a result, calmer pieces such as the tender, wittily played 'Gavotte' appear even lighter and more delicate. ... At the end, Prokofiev power, now in the form of Babayan's transcriptions of his film music, forces the audience to jump to standing ovations. But before this, the two of them play Mozart's Sonata K.448 - with an intimate devotion that is deeply moving. Time seems to stand still. Sparkling runs, trills, melodies softly merge. One barely distinguishes who plays what. Such miracles of musical togetherness and virtuoso synchronality are again shown in the encore from Rachmaninov's Suite No. 1 Op. 15; burbling arabesque harmonies, quicksilver runs, all light and fluffy like cotton candy, flowing and sparkling like champagne.
Stuttgarter Zeitung, 8 November 2017
The truest miracles of the evening were revealed in the Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 488. This piece was shared with a range of the human experience unheard of in most performances, and the interplay of the parts was delivered with seamless transparency, and unfolded with improvised joy. Within the course of specific turns of phrase—ordinary and derivative in lesser hands—the rhetoric was confiding, as though to impart the joys and sorrows of a lifetime. The tempi in the outer movements were breathtaking. The performers were on a matched wavelength to an extent that left one to consider whether musical soulmates are determined by larger forces in the universe.
Slipped Disc, 1 November 2017
Mais quelle générosité, quel engagement total (c’est aussi une des caractéristiques du jeu de Trifonov), quand d’autres s’économisent et restent dans les limites du bon goût ! Sergei Babayan fait exploser toutes les convenances. Un piano plus grand que nature.
DIAPASON, 30 November 2017
Martha Argerich, Sergei Babayan furnish Cleveland with musical evening for the ages. - As if we didn't already have enough reasons to be grateful to pianist Sergei Babayan. Now, in addition to all his other work, we also have the artist-in-residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music to thank for bringing Martha Argerich to Cleveland. For organizing and executing a musical evening for the ages, a concert none who attended will soon forget. (...) Never has "Romeo and Juliet" sounded quite as electric as it did Monday. Babayan's transcriptions and his performance with Argerich contained all the brute intensity and dashing lyricism of the original but little of its tragic sentiment. Time and again, the two pianists easily conjured a full orchestra with ferocious, pounding chords and rich textures, only to turn around and spin out some charming dance or radiant, achingly beautiful melody.
cleveland.com, 31 October 2017
A four-hand Chopin rondo that Trifonov shares with his teacher, the inspirational Sergei Babayan. Nothing on this album is predictable, nothing stale. This is what piano recitals must have sounded like before artists were obliged to listen to agents and producers.
Ludwig Van, 13 October 2017
Downright stunning is the Rondo Op. 73 for two pianos: Trifonov is playing this together with his former teacher, Armenian Sergei Babayan, in such a delicate, witty way, without the slightest element of vanity, that the listener senses more musicality in this harmless, yet staggeringly virtuoso amusement for the 19th century parlors than in many a grandiose magnum opus.
DIE ZEIT, 4 October 2017
Her congenial partner in the four-hand playing of two grand pianos was the celebrated Armenian-American pianist Sergei Babayan. Argerich and Babayan, as of one piece, celebrated the art of singing on the piano in the softest possible way. Colors of sound which have never been heard like this before.
Die Rheinpfalz, 2 October 2017
American-Armenian pianist Sergei Babayan created a dozen of orchestral pieces from Prokofev's ballet suite «Romeo and Juliet» for two pianos. What he created is a fluorescent drama full of radical radiance that leaves ample room for the creativity of both pianists. Argerich and Babayan, technically equals with a great sense for musical effect, present the twelve movements. The joy of inspiring each other in dialogue, passing each other the rapid tempi, merge in colorful rubati. It takes two outstanding artists to produce this – one, together: twenty fingers that make a thundering Steinway whisper, purring pianos which sound like a ray of light reflecting in manifold dewdrops. Sparks were emitting, the luxuriousness of sounds has the audience jump to standing ovations.
Der Bund, 30 September 2017
When the first notes arose from the piano, the listener instantly knew and felt in his deepest self that something exceptional was about to take shape. O my friends, what touch, what infinite sensitivity, what admirable articulation, what respiration that emanated from the piano! Mozart in a way that, once again, elevated us beyond ourselves. It is worth noting that Sergei Babayan is none other than the teacher of Daniil Trifonov. Custom has it that the student surpasses the teacher; here, nothing seems less certain.
Res Musica, 26 July 2017
SERGEI BABAYAN: A GENIUS! The advantage of the written press is that one can be speechless and say all the good that one thinks of an artist. Sergei Babayan, whom we know too little, is a genius. Period. This evidence appeared to us on Friday evening in full light: Sergei Babayan is a kind of Grigory Sokolov for initiates. Like Sokolov, the cult pianist of the moment, Babayan has the ability to transform the concert into a ceremony. The listener quickly understands who he is dealing with. In a very simple piece by Arvo Pärt, Babayan seems to test the diffusion of sound in the room, leaving the silences to hover. The fade out of the last note is pure magic, since the goal is to perplex the listener: when does the sound stop?
Le Devoir, 19 November 2016
Sergei Babayan brought consummate technique and insight to the cryptic Fifth Concerto, another work in which Prokofiev’s Neo-Classical approach is rendered Modernist, even baffling, through fragmentation and harmonic strangeness. The intrepid audience awarded hearty ovations to every pianist. Hopefully it won’t take another marathon to hear the overlooked, underrated concertos.
The New York Times, 25 February 2016
DICTATED FROM ABOVE. An Interview with Sergei Babayan. - ... What is so special about Chopin's music? - Wow! Where do I start? Many things are special, as in all geniuses. First of all, the intensity of the way he felt life and the way he could express this in his ingenious music, in harmony, in his melodies. When I try to find elements that are close to me, it would be the certain nostalgia, and love, and pain, and happiness, and elegance, and effortlessness, and the impeccable taste and perfectionism to the extent that you start to wonder, was it a human being who wrote this music or was it dictated from above? He has a capricious nature; when you do a little too much, it immediately “takes revenge on” you.
Chopin Society of Atlanta, 15 October 2015