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Track(s) taken from CDA67995

Sonata in B flat major, H32

1742/3, published in 1744; No 4 of Württemberg Sonatas, Wq49

Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Studio Master:
Studio Master:
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 30 seconds

Cover artwork: 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


'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)

'I spent most of the year procrastinating, unable to stop listening and start writing an article on CPE Bach. Perhaps I was enjoying the process too much, or maybe I wasn't able to wrap my mind around the complexities of the composer's music. Mahan Esfahani's traversal of the 'Württemberg' Sonatas was one of the delights of the composer's anniversary year, fully embodying the enormous range and subtely of Bach's expressive language, his playfulness, his tenderness and his manifold idiosyncrasies' (Gramophone)

'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

'One of the first releases of the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach year revealed an emerging superstar in the Iranian-American harpsichordist' (The Sunday Times | 100 Best Records of the Year)

'This set of the Württemberg Sonatas of 1744, has a piquant quality; the timbres of Esfahani's harpsichord range from tangy to feathery as he responds to the music's rhythmic vibrancy and its juxtaposition of humor and drama, in which one can hear the keen influence on Haydn' (Listen, USA)

'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

If the first and third sonatas of the Württemberg set represent the initial stirrings of Sturm und Drang in keyboard music, then the Sonata in B flat major is the apotheosis of all that is sublime and charming. Lest we think that such qualities lack profundity, we should remember that the ‘sublime’ was, in its most seemingly effortless guise, a trait highly sought after by composers of this time. The opening theme has nothing of the angular gestures associated with German music, but possesses the easy clarity of Bohemian and Slavonic folksong—perhaps C P E Bach heard such music in the homes of his Berlin colleagues, the brothers Franz and Johann Benda. Whatever the origins of such a style, the melodic narrative gives way to playfulness at cadences and other points of structural punctuation, and occasional lapses into ‘sadness’ or sentimentality quickly defer to the lightness of the opening bars.

The second movement uses Baroque fugato as a frame for typically empfindsame melodic sighs. The movement is notable for its marvellous sense of stillness. One recalls Charles Burney’s famous description of Emanuel Bach improvising at the keyboard: ‘[He] looked like one inspired. His eyes were fixed, his underlip fell, and drops of effervescence distilled from his countenance.’

The final Allegro shows Bach’s great sense of wit and timing, as the pauses between phrases are specifically notated. Particularly noteworthy is the novel use of brash melodic leaps and block chords in a manner far removed from the polyphonic cantabile of an earlier generation. These elements of humour and drama were not lost on the young Joseph Haydn, who himself attested that he recognized only Emanuel Bach as his prototype. This should not surprise us—this final movement immediately brings to mind the finale of Haydn’s own F major Sonata, Hob. XVI/23 (1773).

from notes by Mahan Esfahani © 2014

Si les première et troisième sonates du corpus württembergeois constituent les premières manifestations claviéristiques du Sturm und Drang, la Sonate en si bémol majeur marque, elle, l’apothéose du sublime et du charmant. Des vertus qui ne manquent d’ailleurs pas de profondeur car, rappelons-le, le «sublime» était, sous son dehors en apparence le plus facile, une caractéristique alors fort prisée des compositeurs. Le thème d’ouverture n’a rien des gestes anguleux associés à la musique allemande, mais il possède cette clarté aisée des chants populaires bohémiens et slaves—une musique que C. P. E. Bach entendit peut-être chez les frères Franz et Johann Benda, ses confrères berlinois. Quelles que soient les origines d’un tel style, le récit mélodique se laisse aller à l’enjouement quand surviennent les cadences et d’autres moments de ponctuation structurelle, d’occasionnelles plongées dans la «tristesse» ou la sentimentalité succombant vite à la légèreté des premières mesures.

Le deuxième mouvement utilise un fugato baroque en guise de bâti pour des soupirs mélodiques typiquement Empfindsamer. Ce mouvement vaut par son merveilleux sentiment de quiétude. On se souvient de la fameuse description que Charles Burney fit d’Emanuel Bach improvisant au clavier: «[Il] avait l’air inspiré. Son regard était fixe, sa lippe tombait et son visage distillait des gouttes d’effervescence.»

L’Allegro final montre tout le sens de la verve et du rythme de Bach, qui nota spécifiquement les pauses entre les phrases. Particulièrement remarquable est son usage novateur d’impétueux sauts mélodiques et de blocs d’accords, à des lieues du cantabile polyphonique de la génération antérieure. Ces éléments humoristiques et tragiques ne furent pas perdus pour le jeune Joseph Haydn, qui assura d’ailleurs reconnaître Emanuel Bach pour seul prototype. Voilà qui ne devrait pas nous surprendre: ce dernier mouvement rappelle d’emblée le finale de la Sonate en fa majeur Hob. XVI/23 (1773) de Haydn.

extrait des notes rédigées par Mahan Esfahani © 2014
Français: Hypérion

Wenn sich in der ersten und dritten Sonate des Württembergischen Zyklus die ersten Anzeichen des Sturm und Drang in der Musik für Tasteninstrumente ankündigen, so ist die Sonate in B-Dur die Apotheose alles Erhabenen und Reizvollen. Falls sich der Eindruck einstellen sollte, dass es diesen Eigenschaften an Tiefgang fehle, so sei daran erinnert, dass das „Erhabene“ in scheinbar müheloser Gestalt ein von den Komponisten der Zeit äußerst begehrtes Stilmittel war. Das Anfangsthema besitzt keine jener eckigen Gesten, die mit deutscher Musik in Verbindung gebracht werden, sondern zeichnet sich eher durch die Klarheit böhmischer oder slawischer Volkslieder aus—möglicherweise war C.Ph.E. Bach mit solcher Musik bei seinen Berliner Kollegen, den Gebrüdern Franz und Johann Benda in Kontakt gekommen. Wo dieser Stil auch herstammen mochte, jedenfalls geht die Melodik in eine gewisse Verspieltheit bei den Kadenzen und anderen strukturellen Eckpfeilern über, und gelegentliche Anflüge von „Traurigkeit“ oder Sentimentalität beugen sich schnell der Unbeschwertheit der Anfangstakte.

Im zweiten Satz wird ein barockes Fugato als Rahmen für melodische Seufzer, typisch für den sogenannten empfindsamen Stil, verwendet. Die wunderbare Stille des Satzes ist besonders beachtlich. Man denkt dabei an Charles Burneys berühmte Beschreibung Emanuel Bachs, wie dieser an einem Tasteninstrument improvisierte: „Er sah aus wie ein Inspirierter. Sein Blick war starr, seine Unterlippe fiel hinab und überschäumende Tropfen bildeten sich auf seinem Antlitz.“

Im Schlusssatz (Allegro) kommen Bachs Witz und Zeitgefühl zur Geltung—die Pausen zwischen den Phrasen sind alle ausdrücklich notiert. Besonders beachtenswert ist der neuartige Einsatz kühner melodischer Sprünge und Blockakkorde, die sich in ihrer Art sehr von den kantablen polyphonen Sätzen der vorangehenden Generationen unterscheiden. Diese humoristischen und dramatischen Elemente gingen an dem jungen Joseph Haydn nicht vorbei, der selbst erklärte, dass er nur Emanuel Bach als sein Vorbild ansehe. Es ist dies nicht weiter überraschend—dieses Finale erinnert sofort an den letzten Satz aus Haydns F-Dur-Sonate Hob. XVI/23 (1773).

aus dem Begleittext von Mahan Esfahani © 2014
Deutsch: Viola Scheffel

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