Compelling and individual musicality, a pointed intellect and a strong, if not comprehensive, technique make Sergei Babayan a pianist of superior promise in an overcrowded artistic world.
One of the eight finalists in the 1993 Ivo Pogorelich International Piano Competition, held in Pasadena, Babayan returned here Sunday night, playing a connoisseur's recital for an enthusiastic crowd at the South Bay Center for the Arts. The 34-year-old pianist from Armenia played beautifully and made an incontrovertible success.
His recital--shorn of a longish but exposing Schubert group--showed facets of this talented, highly accomplished musician's art. It also displayed gaps in his arsenal.
Foremost in his weaknesses is a limited coloristic palette; Babayan can play loud and soft, fast and slow, and has the personality to hold an audience's attention. But the full panoply of pianistic textures, colors and hues is not his; throughout this agenda, his playing remained monochromatic.
His daring first half, made up of 18 sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, showed musical astuteness but failed to give the composer all his myriad moods and tone-colors.
Liszt's largely neglected Ballade No. 2 proved a fascinating choice to open the second half, but did not blossom as it might.
Most convincingly, Carl Vine's Sonata (1991), a piece first heard here when Pogorelich Competition winner Michael Kieran Harvey played it, became Babayan's stunning closer, an impassioned, if not fully polished, re-creation of a wonderful piece from the second half of our century.
After that, Babayan offered as a single encore more of the same--muscle without finesse--in Liszt's transcription of Schubert's song, "Auf dem Wasser zu singen."