61 Minutes Of Piano Heaven

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Although keyboard connoisseurs have revered Sergei Babayan for decades, a recent association with Deutsche Grammophon appears to be broadening his audience, abetted by duo piano collaborations with Martha Argerich and his former student Daniil Trifonov. This 2009 all-Rachmaninov release marks Babayan’s solo debut on the label, and it showcases the pianist at the height of his artistry.

He coaxes the most gorgeously shaped melodic lines and inner voices from the A-flat Op. 23 No. 6 Prelude’s swirling textures, while sensually parsing the familiar G-sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12’s foreground and background material in perfect proportions. Likewise, 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. At the same time, the F minor Prelude Op. 32 No. 6’s climaxes make an incisive impact without the least bit banging.

Babayan’s consummate control of the D major Op. 23 No. 4’s lines weaving in and out of all registers conveys comparable transparency and ease of execution to pianists like Richter and Ashkenazy. I can’t remember the anecdote about when someone asked a famous musician who had the best cello tone in the world, and the musician answered “Rubinstein”, meaning, of course, the pianist. I mention this because Babayan’s lyrical and red-blooded reading of Volodos’ solo-piano arrangement of the Cello Sonata’s slow movement makes you think that the piano’s hammers had been exchanged for the longest and smoothest functioning bow on the market. Ignore the gushing booklet notes and just settle in for 61-plus minutes of piano heaven.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Rachmaninov Recital (various selections): Richter (Eurodisc), Rachmaninov Recital (various selections): Horowitz (Sony), Rachmaninov Recital (various selections): This one

  • Sergei Babayan (piano)

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