Sergei Babayan performs music of Chopin at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. (courtesy of Chopin Society of Atlanta.)

Review: Pianist Sergei Babayan plays all-Chopin recital with fluidity, artistry

Mark Gresham | 29 OCT 2019

On Sunday afternoon, the celebrated Armenian-American pianist Sergei Babayan performed a solo recital comprised entirely of short works by the Polish Romantic-era composer and piano virtuoso Fryderyk (Frédéric) Chopin. Presented by the Chopin Society of Atlanta, the performance took place in the 1,070-seat Byers Theatre of the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center.

Chopin wrote primarily for solo piano, and those works are decidedly at the core of classical piano repertoire and study. They are noted for their poetic character, national sentiments, and expanding the limits of piano technique — including his manner of ornamentation derived from singing, such as his signature use of fioriture — as well as harmonic originality. A total of 28 short solo compositions by Chopin were presented and the 58-year-old Babayan performed them with an artistry which well exceeded the demands the music makes on the performer.

  • ASO-2122-CS03 (Ad)
  • Spivey Hall - Organ Discovery Day

Most interesting was that the Sonatas or Etudes were entirely absent from the program, which instead focused primarily on Chopin’s development of Polish folk dances into works for the salon and concert hall rather than the ballroom or dance hall, giving them greater range of melody and expression beyond the folk tradition. The first half of the program was a mix of Polonaises, Valses, a Barcarolle, a Nocturne, an Impromptu and a Prelude. The second half was entirely comprised of Mazurkas – 18 in all – with the exception a final Valse at the end.

Unlike many concerts which will organize works by presenting a complete Opus together as a group, Babayan mixed them up but carefully sequenced individual pieces so that each uninterrupted half of the program came across as having its own continuous arch, with well chosen key-relationships between the pieces. That allowed the listener to enjoy the flow of pieces from on to the other. While one might think that the second half’s long sequence of Mazurkas might be too uniform, that was not the case. There exists a rich variety among them, and Babayan brought out their expressive and coloristic contrasts.

  • ECMSA 2122 ad
  • AD ASO-2021-22-CS04 Nathalie Stultzmann
  • AD SPIVEY HALL Sheku & Isata Kanneh-Mason 600 x 250

For an encore, Babayan did not play more Chopin; choosing instead a piece by French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau: “Le rappel des oiseaux” (“The Birds Recall”) – the forth movement of his Suite No. 3 from Pièces de clavecin. Babayan gave it as much fluidity as his playing of Chopin’s music, an approach which came across appealing, even if not within the narrow confines of historical practice. ■