Saturday, November 6, 2021

Orchestra Hall, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

Sergei Babayan has already given us one of the indispensable Rachmaninov recordings,, and he consolidated his prowess in this composer’s output with a reading of the D-minor Third Piano Concerto that enjoyed fleet fingers, Romantic yearning, crunchy chords and persuasive fluctuations of tempo and dynamics – lived in, breathed, aflame with identification – Babayan communing with the music, choosing the more-technically-demanding of the two first-movement cadenzas, heroically dispatched, and in its wake strumming lyrical asides to melt the hardest of hearts.

Never less than eloquent or sympathetic were the DSO and Jader Bignamini (conducting from memory), not least at the opening of the second movement, paving the way for Babayan’s outspokenness, intimacy and dexterity. The Finale, growlingly flourished by Babayan, went at quite a lick (during which percussion was gratifyingly lightly coloured-in rather than assaultive), if pliable, even giving the impression of being extemporised, such was the pianist’s command of the notes. Sweet remembrance and coursing vitality (including a startling subito accelerando from Babayan) vied for attention on the way to a grand apotheosis.

For an encore, Babayan teased a Chopin Waltz (the C-sharp minor, Opus 64/2), gentle and dreamlike, rubato all the way. Very personal if endearing.

Following the interval, Brahms’s D-major Second Symphony – a flowing if slightly ‘squeezed’ first movement, its exposition repeated, wholesome in trajectory if kept within expressive parameters for all the creamy sounds and vocal-like shaping. In the Adagio Bignamini (DSO music director) looked beyond the pastoral (an unofficial soubriquet sometimes handed to this Symphony) to find core emotions and then offset these with a gracious and airily agile successor. The Finale, swift yet precise, volumes varied, made for an exhilarating if unforced conclusion.

This concert may still be available here: