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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Reclining male nude supported on left arm, looking upwards by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779)
Courtesy of the Martin von Wagner Museum, University of Würzburg
Track(s) taken from CDA67995
Recording details: January 2013
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Tim Oldham
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: January 2014
Total duration: 12 minutes 12 seconds

'The playing here is miles away from the clangorous, congested sound once so typical of harpsichord recitals, denounced by Sir Thomas Beecham as like listening to ‘copulating skeletons’ … hopefully, we will get more new recordings from Esfahani. I’d love to hear him in some of Emanuel’s many keyboard concertos' (The Mail on Sunday) » More

'The elusive fusion of thematic intricacy, 'Baroque' rhetoric and 'proto-Classical' Sturm und Drang offered by the instrument are caught perfectly by Esfahani's supple touch and disarming sense of rhetorical pacing' (Gramophone) » More

'Esfahani's first solo disc provides a particularly welcome introduction onto the world stage for an artist matching, in 'expression', CPE Bach himself' (BBC Music Magazine) » More
PERFORMANCE
RECORDING

'Esfahani's debut solo recording is of music that, appropriately enough, boldly breaks rank in pursuit of new ideals. C. P. E. Bach’s six keyboard sonatas … are models of the unconventional, exploratory in many respects, and exemplars of the empfindsamer Stil that gave voice to the expressive concerns of a number of European composers in the mid-eighteenth century … Bach’s guiding interest in the artistic sensibilities that produced such movements as Sturm und Drang is clearly evident in music of frequently changing mood and affekt, and it is this sense of the unsettled, of not quite knowing what’s being aimed for or where the music is heading, that makes his music at once so interesting and so difficult to interpret well … The many sudden dynamic changes in the ‘Württemberg Sonatas’ Esfahani has to achieve on the harpsichord through changes of manual or by adding or subtracting registers, and the sureness with which he does it, especially mid-phrase and at speed, with barely a breath between them, is impressive … The ‘Württemberg Sonatas’ … need a virtuoso interpreter not only to bring off the more showy aspects of the writing—which Esfahani does with strong-fingered assurance—but also to make sense of the inherent strangeness of other parts of the music. The opening movement of No. 6 is an operatic scena in all but name, a recitative keenly characterized by tonal contrast as well as by-phrases that peter out with little real continuity or resolution. In lesser hands the movement would fall to bits, but Esfahani makes coherence out of apparent incoherence, manages to get the music to hang together and establishes dramatic momentum, displaying an authoritative understanding of Bach’s rhetoric … As for his playing, in the best sense it is anything but unpredictable: sure-minded and vividly realized, it holds the attention with ease and is a pleasure to hear. This is an excellent recording and it can be thoroughly recommended' (International Record Review) » More

'In this winning performance by the young American-Iranian harpsichordist, one is taken aback by the avant-garde effects and abrupt changes of tempo and mood. The sound of his instrument—a reproduction based on models by the Berlin court harpsichord-maker Michael Mietke (d 1719)—enjoys a wide-ranging spectrum of timbres in Esfahani’s dexterous hands, but it is the verve of his allegros and the affecting pathos of his slow movements that mark him out as a special interpreter of this fascinating composer’s music in his tercentenary year' (The Sunday Times) » More

'Technique extraordinairement réactive, sens inné du son, sensibilité merveilleusement communicative : un tel rayonnement est chose rare … dans sa notice, Esfahani se livre à une analyse des mouvements extrêmement argumentée, qui témoigne d’une maturité saisissante. On a rarement entendu un Bach aussi près du texte et pourtant si libre, sidérant d’aisance dans les pages brillantes et débordant de tendresse dans les adagios.

L'Adagio non molto de la Sonate en si mineur résume le propos : la mélancolie tente de s'étourdir dans une feinte agitation, les silhouettes de Fiordiligi ou de la Comtesse se dessinent sous nos yeux. L’instrument (d’après Mietke) est particulièrement intéressant. Il combine les traditionnelles vertus de la facture allemande (timbre luthé, aigu merveilleusement vocal) et un registre médium d'une richesse expressive dont Esfahani joue en expert' (Diapason, France) » More

PERFORMANCE
PERFORMANCE

Sonata in E flat major, H34
composer
1742/3, published in 1744; No 5 of Württemberg Sonatas, Wq49

Allegro  [5'22]
Adagio  [3'23]
Allegro assai  [3'27]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The brilliant Sonata in E flat major is one of the most sunny and extroverted utterances of the mid-eighteenth century. The first movement is characterized by its varied melodic contour, giving the impression of a fish leaping out of the water in the first bar, then falling immediately back in, and on each successive jump leaping and frolicking in a slightly different way. In contrast to this playful first idea, a second theme enters with great pathos, giving way once more to a feeling of elation stated in the most flamboyant manner with descending cascades of notes. Here Emanuel Bach truly shows his mettle as the master of a new aesthetic, as he uses unprepared chords, whether consonant or dissonant, to underline the affective momentum of his melodies. No longer must a composer depend on the Baroque method by which harmonies occur as a confluence of prepared contrapuntal lines.

The second movement’s fugal quality recalls the middle movement of the previous sonata in B flat major. As with that work, the idea of fugue is used as a topos or prop in order to highlight certain emotionally charged intervals, in this case an ascending seventh followed by a descending semitone in the opening theme. Bach uses a secondary theme in running semiquavers to give harmonic momentum and put the first theme into metrical relief.

The splendid third movement combines virtuosity with a cheeky sense for drama as a repeating-note figure propels moments of suspense. The composer makes use of the contrast between the rich lower register of the keyboard and the fast-speaking higher register’s shrill cantabile.

from notes by Mahan Esfahani © 2014

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