Let’s start with Arno Babajanian, an Armenian composer who matured during the Soviet era and died in 1983; a quick internet browse reveals that a minor planet was named in his honour three years after his death. This recital disc by the brilliant Armenian-American pianist Raffi Besalyan contains four Babajanian miniatures. They’re gorgeous; the Prelude and Melody paying homage to Rachmaninov, the Elegy a sublime, songful tribute to Babajanian’s fellow Armenian Aram Khachaturian. A pungent folk dance closes the disc, and promptly sent me online in search of more Babajanian.
All else here is Rachmaninov: a selection of the Préludes, the Etudes-Tableuxand the Corelli Variations. And very smartly played – the Op. 23 G minor Prelude’s rhythms have a brilliantly incisive snap, reminding us that Rachmaninov’s music isn’t just about woozy lyricism. The G# minor Prelude in the Op.32 set glitters, Besalyan’s right hand ideally clear. Unfussy, highly readable notes by theartsdesk‘s Gavin Dixon reveal that the sixth Etude-Tableau in the Op. 33 set was based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and also tell us why this CD bears the name The Return. Op. 39′s No. 6 is dark, percussive and propulsive. The Variations on a Theme of Corelli are nicely played; the short movements seamlessly knitted into a cogent whole. Stunning, intelligent playing and ripe, detailed sound – some of the best solo Rachmaninov I’ve heard recently.