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.
Zsolt Bognár, Slipped Disc, 1 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
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