Review: Prokofiev for Two

Sergei Babayan
Fono Forum

Translated from German

By Matthias Kornemann

"Armenian-American pianist Sergei Babayan has created remarkably delicate and translucid pieces for piano duo with his transcriptions of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet music which go far beyond the usual busy irrelevance of such arrangements. He treats the original with great freedom. Already in the introduction, he does not use the opening of the ballet but processes a theme from Romeo's duel with Tybalt, which also forms Babayan's concluding piece. This hammering framework barely prepares the listener for the magic that follows. The more lyrical, the more swinging the originals, the more inspired appear to have turned out the transcriptions. With the Aubade, a depiction of young Juliet full of an almost breathless joy of life, or the Dance with Mandolines he has created riveting studies.

But then, how phenomenal is the playing! Martha Argerich has rarely sounded as relaxed as here. And she owes this to Babayan. One is often tempted to look at her duo partners with commiseration, for even when their names were Stephen Bishop, Nelson Freire or Mikhail Pletnev, they all seemed to reach limits of mechanical capacities. The relations are less one-sided on this album. Even if Argerich's drive may have given the pulse, she is not the one who dictates the interpretation. It is she who, with incredible malleability, follows the convincing interpretation of her musical partner. This Prokofiev, almost Scarlatti-esc at times with all its surprising elegance, transparency and fire, is the best evidence for this ability. Sergei Babayan has truly made an inspiring gift to his long-time duo partner."