Pianist Raffi Besalyan presented the Pro Musica audience with a lavish smorgasbord of 21 piano works, some of them well-known, but the majority were experienced by us for the first time. Judging from the reaction and post-concert comments by audience members, it was a terrific evening.
It was only right that Mr. Besalyan would devote the first segment of his concert to works by composers from his native Armenia. “Spring” by Komitas has a gentle beginning, followed by an emotional passage, then returns to the quiet of the opening. This was followed by the powerful Prelude # 6 by Eduard Bagdasarian.
The highlight of the Armenian program was the quartet of pieces by Arno Babajanian, beginning with the peaceful Prelude, then the exquisite “Melody,” so song-like, and unmistakably from the Caucasus, as was the Elegie, and such great playing by the right hand! It was so beautiful! The energetic Dance concluded this segment.
The first half of the recital was dominated by the music of Rachmaninoff. Five of his 24 Preludes, including the two most popular ones. The ubiquitous “Bells of Moscow” received excellent pacing by Mr. Besalyan, and the G minor was performed brilliantly. The E-flat Major is so lyrical and it reminded me of “that” passage in his 2nd Piano Concerto. Raffi showed “rolling notes” discipline in the C minor in a dazzling display, each hand taking turns in wave after wave of sound. The G Major Prelude closed the set in a quiet mood. It was a love song.
The three Etudes-Tableaux were revelatory. “Scene at the Fair” reminded me of the C minor Prelude. The C minor Etude was insanely energetic, and the one in A minor (“Little Red Riding Hood”) was alternately humorous and sinister, ending in two snarling “bites.”
Following Intermission, Raffi played three Preludes by Gershwin. He showed a real flair for the “bluesy” style. I loved his rendition of the “Blue Lullaby,” and the “Spanish Prelude” was wonderfully rhythmical.
The Ukrainian Nikolai Kapustin also was fond of jazz. Raffi performed his Prelude in E Major. If you don’t think jazz can be beautiful, listen to that piece, as performed by Mr. Besalyan. And the Concert Etude in F minor, fiendishly difficult, was given a bravura reading.
Chopin’s famous Waltz in C-sharp minor was played with such graceful sensitivity. Raffi used his rubatos to great effect.
The maniacal Mephisto Waltz # 1 by Liszt closed the program. Its technical difficulties were negotiated with aplomb, but what a jaw-dropper! Face it, the piece is mostly empty bombast, but it is so much fun, and it displays a pianist’s exceptional skills. Raffi Besalyan has a surfeit of them, stamina and strength foremost in this opus.
What a glorious evening this was! Mr. Besalyan generously gave of his time at the Afterglow, graciously speaking with the many people who wanted to interact with him.
He had also given of his time and talents to the Detroit School of the Arts pupils in the morning. He listened to three pianists, gave helpful instruction to them, and played three of the works he would play on his program. Three of the youngsters were in the evening audience.
Stan Beattie, who with Carol, hosted Raffi for two-plus days, took him to the statue of the Armenian mystic and composer Komitas on Saturday. The statue is just off Hart Plaza, on the median of Jefferson Avenue. He took several photos, certainly a very happy proof of Raffi Besalyan’s unforgettable visit to Detroit.