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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 54 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

'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


Sonata in B minor, H36
1742/3, published in 1744; No 6 of Württemberg Sonatas, Wq49

Moderato  [5'00]
Adagio non molto  [4'22]
Allegro  [3'32]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The last of the set to be written, the Sonata in B minor is perhaps the most representative of Emanuel Bach’s Janus-like musical personality, characterized by a tendency to look forward to new developments in musical style while paying homage to the training he received at the hands of his illustrious father. The first movement sets the stage in dramatic fashion with what is essentially an extended recitativo accompagnato as if for solo voice and orchestra (each respectively implied by the composer’s specific indications for piano and forte manuals of the harpsichord). Perhaps Bach had in mind the operas and dramatic scenes of his Berlin contemporary Carl Heinrich Graun, whose celebrated Cesare e Cleopatra had opened the Royal Court Opera in Berlin two years previously. The entire movement is a study in imperfect resolutions and melodic motifs stopping in mid-air. Bach brilliantly manipulates and magnifies the tension by juxtaposing each point of melodic resolution with an immediate musical question mark or pause.

This is followed by a second movement of disarming tenderness. The principal theme is essentially a sequence of sighs, followed by a dotted secondary theme that at first seems wonderfully chirpy but which with each return of the sighs acquires a quality of poignancy. Finally, sadness seems to win the day as the closing bars of dotted rhythms lead us back to the opening Affekt.

The final movement is a perfect two-part invention, the first piece in the entire collection that can be said to belong truly to the High Baroque. With the nearly endless rising modulation in the second half, however, Emanuel seems to be mocking the old style a bit as he follows counterpoint to its most ridiculously over-the-top narrative conclusion. The final eighteen bars, following a fermata, are achieved in a poker-faced manner—technically perfect and cool-headed, but perhaps with a smirk left over from the jokes of the previous bars. Or perhaps there is no ridiculing after all. After a trip to the opera in the first two movements, Emanuel Bach pays tribute to the greatest composer of them all—his father. Maybe he is saying that a two-part invention is ultimately worth more than all the pretty costumes and set designs in the world.

from notes by Mahan Esfahani © 2014

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