Raffi Besalyan studied under Sergey Barseghyan at the Yerevan State Komitas Conservatory in Armenia and later continued his studies with Byron Janis in the US. He also studied under Nasedkin and Merzhanov at the Moscow Conservatory. A former faculty member of Rowan University, he is now a professor of piano at the University of Wisconsin.
Besalyan immediately displays his supreme virtuosity from the opening of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No.2 (revised version). Indeed, he is a “true heir of the mainstream of Russian pianism, like Horowitz” (CHOPIN Magazine) as is mentioned on the sleeve of the CD. Besalyan’s sophisticated and exquisite tone colors that are full of nuance and the tasteful and rich singing manner in which he turns the phrases resemble Horowitz. Besalyan fuses his western suave and polished elegant qualities perfectly. Pianist’s sorrowful, deeply colored interpretation of the 2nd movement is phenomenal. It leads us to a highly dramatic, emotional performance of the 3rd movement. Besalyan’s dexterity and agogic accents bring out the humorous expressions in the Polka de W.R.
The pianist’s choice to include some pieces by Armenian composers Komitas and Baghdassarian in the program is an interesting factor. Baghdassarian’s Prelude in B minor is a virtuosic piece combining Rachmaninoff-like lyrical singing melodies. Besalyan’s playing of the Prelude in D minor with its Armenian folk-like melody is simply splendid. In his pure expression, Besalyan becomes one with Komitas’ “Spring”. It is a magnificent interpretation, full of pathos.
The “show” of a performance of the piano solo version of Ravel’s La Valse proves yet again that Besalyan is a master of his art. Tsutomu Nasuda
Raffi Besalyan is one of the most outstanding pianists to emerge from Armenia. After completing his graduate studies at the Yerevan State Komitas Conservatory in his homeland Armenia, Besalyan moved to America to further his education there. He has won various prizes in numerous competitions prior to his appointment at the University of Wisconsin, where he is currently a professor of piano. Besalyan has been repeatedly visiting Japan since 2001, and this CD was also recorded here in Japan in Plaza North Hall, Saitama.
The program opens with a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No.2, which gives the listener a real taste of the so-called Russian pianism. The playing is powerful and vigorous in every way. Here, Besalyan demonstrates brilliant virtuosity and employs his precise touch. He also reveals abundant emotional commitment to the music, which is strongly evident in the memorable interpretation of the second theme of the first movement (and its recurrence). These are the qualities that inevitably draw the listener’s attention to Besalyan’s performance. His playing is at a superior level throughout.
After Rachmaninoff’s Polka de W.R., the program continues with Three Preludes by Armenian composer Baghdassarian. Despite the fact that Baghdassarian lived in the 20th Century (1922-1987), his style, with its romantic elements and tendencies, is very similar to Rachmaninoff’s to an extent that you may easily think that you are listening to the works of the latter. Nevertheless, Besalyan performs the works by these two composers with much love and affection. Then there is the Liszt Mephisto Waltz No.1, and, let me tell you, this is also stunning! After “Spring”, the work by another Armenian composer, Komitas, Ravel’s La Valse ties up the entire program.
This substantial and satisfying recital gives you enough reasons to place the spotlight on this pianist. Jiro Hamada
This large piano has an impressive sound and a brilliant tone. I get an image of the instrument that is vibrating richly and singing in the air freely. The attack is clear and clean. You can also sense the grand scale. The alluring tone that is carefree and tender has velvety qualities, spreads in front of the eyes and puts you in comfort. This is a piano with vivid colors. Kazuo Kanzaki
Special Critics’ Choice Award