Sergei Babayan
Le Devoir

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. Our concert societies, including the Ladies' Morning, an organization very loyal to artists, should get the word out and bring him to us often.

This evidence appeared to us on Friday evening in full light: Sergey 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. This is what he did last night, asking that the backlighting of the windows of the Salle Bourgie be turned off, plunging the room into total darkness with himself on stage, barely illuminated.

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?

Babayan reproduced this evaporation of matter in the ether of silence at the end of the piece by Vladimir Ryabov, a composer born in 1950, who pays tribute to Maria Yudina. One recognizes in filigree certain formulas of composers frequented by the pianist, even scraps of works, the most obvious being a scansion of the 1st part of the Fantasy of Schumann, which one finds at the beginning and the end of the Ryabov. On the other hand, I did not find anything that relates to the 23rd Mozart Concerto, the work most associated with Yudina, since the story says that Stalin woke her in the middle of the night so that she could record this concerto. He had just heard it on the radio. The Fantasy of Ryabov is a disconcerting work, sometimes thunderous, rather far from the art of the pianist, it seemed to me.

In fact, while for Arghamanyan the journey through the legendary variations was largely a work in progress, Babayan, a famous teacher (notably of Daniil Trifonov), went around the issue and preserved the dimension of peregrination. He does not omit the reprises. He keeps them at the beginning, to fix the work in time and not precipitate things, and observes them episodically, when the ornamentation of the recovery presents a particular aesthetic interest. The whole lasts 52 minutes and the pianist makes no concessions. His rigor and his polyphonic visions are the absolute antidote to the terrifying wandering of Simone Dinnerstein, who had attempted this masterpiece last June.

Surprisingly, but certainly not fortuitous, with Babayan there seems to be something special at the center of the work, in Variations XIII to XV, just before the French Opening (XVI). The Sweet Variation XIII is played as an awakened dream that creates sparks, while the Variation XV (Canon to the Quinte) is gleamed with righteousness as in the ancient and masterful version by Arrau. In the Ultimate Variation XXX, flames rocket in the sky: the pianist completes a fireworks display.

Never rhetorical, the Goldbergs of Babayan are replete with intelligent punctuations of the left hand, always integrated in a general discourse of remarkable perspective. 
Read the rest of the review here (translation)