Review of “The Return” in Audiophile Audition Magazine. Technical wiz and bold Rachmaninoff master.

I had no idea that such a powerhouse pianist as Raffi Besalyan worked so close to me. Just downtown from where I live, as Assistant Professor of Piano at Georgia State University, resides this technical wiz and bold Rachmaninoff master.

On the basis of this recital, the recital hall at the university must be rocking these days. Besalyan has a frightfully gripping command of all this music, navigating its formidable technical traps with ease, and displaying a wonderfully lively tone and subtle sense of phrasing. Too often pianists try to hide behind Rocky’s high cholesterol harmonies and wildly efficacious pedaling, covering a host of sins. Not Besalyan—though his pedaling is obvious it is also quite controlled and introspective in many ways. His concern is, more than most, for the careful delineation of sub-phrases in the context of the whole, not a large sonic wash than can sound exciting but also cover up half the music. Rachmaninoff can be as chum in the water is to a shark, and too often recordings by extremely different pianists sound remarkably the same, but this one is different in its clarity and emotional content.

The Variations on a Theme of Corelli, “La Folia”, taken from that composer’s Twelve Sonatas, Op. 5, is the only work for solo piano that Rachmaninoff completed outside Russian soil, the other music done before he left his homeland. Besalyan dexterously dances through the difficulties of the masterly work. The album name, The Return, refers to Rachmaninoff’s B-Minor Prelude inspired by the painting The Return of Arnold Böcklin, and the piece was a favorite for his own recitals and a reminder of Russia. These selections are among the most well-known (and popular) of the composer, and Sono Luminous has given us luminous multichannel sound indeed, as realistic as having the Steinway Model D sitting right in your listening room. The pieces by noted Armenian composer and pianist Arno Babajanian (1921-83) are composed in the Rachmaninoff mode, quite enjoyable yet suffering the comparison.

Aside from the CD, there are also MP3 and FLAC files available for download by running your Blu-ray player through your Wi-fi hookup using mShuttle technology, in order to make the music available on a wide variety of devices. This is a fine disc in superb sound with performances that match the technology.