April 2009

Sergei Babayan
April 7, 2009Glenn Gould StudioToronto
Report & photo by Stanley Fefferman
The encore was a piece by Aarvo Part: notes like after a sun shower raindrops fatten and slide off young leaves overhanging a pond. Ripples of the final note spread through the hall, and Sergei Babayan sat, his hands resting on his lap, enjoying the stillness. Babayan’s demeanor, from start to finish, radiates the confidence of a pianist who has something to say about familiar music that makes you feel you have never heard it before.

Three Schubert songs transcribed by Liszt (“Der Muller etc., S.565 No.2,” “Gretchen etc. S.558 No.8,” “Auf dem Wasser etc S.558 No.2”), flow out from his hands with an unheard of tenderness. In Babayan’s hands, Schubert’s melodies — airy, floaty, fully formed but unsubstantial, are pure feeling made manifest. The passion of “Gretchen” played lightly but with speed and urgency comes across not as a musical story being told, but as something happening on the spot that is chillingly real.

Mr. Babayan’s Rameau (Suite No. 2 in A minor) is a gentle but irresistible wake-up call. My comparison here is the Rameau specialist, Alexandre Tharaud, who recently played the piece in Toronto. I remember enjoying Tharaud’s distinctive phrasing and use of rubato, his overall sense of structure. If Tharaud’s version ‘rocked’, Babayan’s version ‘rocked all night like his back ain’t got no bone.’ Which is to say, the facility and felicity of Babayan’s touch brought out of the quick, cross-handed complexities of Rameau a delicate joyfulness.
Sergei Babayan
The final piece on the ‘familiar’ portion of the program — 11 selections from Bach’s Klavierbuchlein — were sweet and playful. The distinctly articulated right and left hand parts emerged like reflections on the stream of Bababyan’s tender, meditative, and overall — mesmerizing approach. The ‘unfamiliar’ component of the program was the hair-raising Fantasia in C minor, Op. 21, in memory of Maria Yudina by Vladimir Ryabov (b. 1950).

Mr. Babayan abandoned himself to the piano and became entirely absorbed in it. Ryabov’s music is bipolar: painfully tender, trilling passages are succeeded by tolling repetitions of chaotic chords and thunder. Unheard of harmonies, dark percussive figures somehow release vibrations of ethereal overtones. The concluding ‘Capriccio’ unleashes a perpetual motion figure that sounds to me like boogie-woogie rocking out until it breaks the piano and Babayan keeps playing as if on a broken piano until silence encroaches on the music and swallows it.

We are very grateful to pianist Shoko Inoue for preparing the concert series Metamorphosis, and for including in the series this man whom she describes as “the most caring and nourishing teacher I have ever had. He has shown me the power of the pianist to be able to reach, so to say, from beyond the sky and to bring that beauty back to this earth.”

We welcome your comments and feedback
Stanley Fefferman
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The Live Music Report
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Stanley Fefferman is a writer/photographer on the Toronto music scene and elsewhere. His work appears online at www.showtimemagazine.ca and here at The LMR.

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