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Track(s) taken from CDA67995

Sonata in B minor, H36

1742/3, published in 1744; No 6 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 54 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

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

Dernière du corpus à avoir été écrite, la Sonate en si mineur est peut-être la plus représentative de la personnalité musicale d’Emanuel Bach—une personnalité à la Janus, marquée par une tendance à rechercher de nouveaux développements stylistiques tout en rendant hommage à la formation reçue de son illustre père. Le premier mouvement plante remarquablement le décor, avec ce qui est avant tout un recitativo accompagnato prolongé, comme pour une voix soliste et un orchestre (respectivement sous-entendus par les indications de Bach pour les manuels piano et forte du clavecin). Peut-être Bach avait-il en tête les opéras et les scènes tragiques de son contemporain berlinois Carl Heinrich Graun, dont le célèbre Cesare e Cleopatra avait inauguré l’Opéra de la cour royale, à Berlin, deux ans auparavant. Tout le mouvement est une étude de résolutions imparfaites et de motifs mélodiques s’arrêtant en suspens. Bach manipule et magnifie avec brio la tension en juxtaposant à chaque moment de résolution motivique une interrogation ou une pause musicales immédiates.

Vient ensuite un deuxième mouvement d’une tendresse désarmante. Le thème principal est, pour l’essentiel, une série de soupirs, précédant un thème secondaire pointé qui paraît merveilleusement gai mais qui, à chaque retour des soupirs, acquiert un côté poignant. Finalement, c’est la tristesse qui semble l’emporter, les mesures conclusives de rythmes pointés nous ramenant à l’Affekt initial.

Le dernier mouvement est une parfaite invention à deux parties, le premier morceau du recueil dont on peut dire qu’il ressortit véritablement au haut baroque. Avec la modulation ascendante presque infinie de la seconde moitié de ce mouvement, Emanuel semble toutefois moquer un peu le style ancien car il suit le contrepoint jusqu’à sa conclusion narrative qui en fait on ne peut plus ridiculement trop. Les dix-huit dernières mesures, après un point d’orgue, sont réalisées en toute impassibilité—techniquement parfaites et imperturbables mais avec, peut-être, un petit sourire narquois, vestige des blagues des mesures précédentes. Peut-être aussi n’y a-t-il, au fond, rien de tourné en ridicule. Après être allé à l’opéra dans les deux premiers mouvements, Emanuel Bach rend hommage au plus grand de tous les compositeurs: son père. Il dit peut-être que, en fin de compte, une invention à deux parties vaut mieux que tous les modèles et costumes tout faits de la terre.

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

Das zuletzt komponierte Stück dieser Werkgruppe, die Sonate in h-Moll, repräsentiert vielleicht am besten die vielseitige musikalische Persönlichkeit Emanuel Bachs, die sich durch eine Tendenz auszeichnete, neue musikalische Entwicklungen vorwegzunehmen, während er gleichzeitig der Ausbildung Tribut zollte, die er von seinem berühmten Vater erhalten hatte. Im Vorfeld wird im ersten Satz das Drama vorbereitet, indem ein quasi ausgedehntes Recitativo accompagnato erklingt, das eine Solostimme mit Orchester imitiert (die jeweils durch die bestimmten Anweisungen des Komponisten für das Piano- und das Forte-Manual des Cembalos bezeichnet sind). Möglicherweise dachte Bach dabei an die Opern und dramatischen Szenen seines Berliner Zeitgenossen Carl Heinrich Graun, dessen gefeiertes Werk Cesare e Cleopatra zwei Jahre zuvor an der Königlichen Hofoper in Berlin gegeben worden war. Der gesamte Satz ist eine Studie in unvollkommenen Auflösungen und melodischen Motiven, die mittendrin innehalten. Bach geht geschickt mit der Spannung um und steigert sie, indem er jeder melodischen Auflösung unmittelbar ein musikalisches Fragezeichen oder eine Pause gegenüberstellt.

Darauf folgt ein zweiter Satz von einer gewinnenden Zärtlichkeit. Das Hauptthema besteht im Wesentlichen aus einer Seufzersequenz, worauf ein punktiertes zweites Thema erklingt, welches zunächst wunderbar vergnügt scheint, bei jeder Rückkehr der Seufzer allerdings melancholischer wird. Schließlich scheint die Traurigkeit überhand zu nehmen, wenn die Schlusstakte mit punktierten Rhythmen zu dem Anfangsaffekt zurückführen.

Der letzte Satz ist eine vollendete zweistimmige Invention, das erste Stück der gesamten Sammlung, das wirklich dem Hochbarock angehört. Mit fast endlosen aufsteigenden Modulationen in der zweiten Hälfte scheint Emanuel Bach den alten Stil allerdings etwas zu verspotten, wenn er den Kontrapunkt zu einem völlig übertriebenen Schluss führt. Die letzten achtzehn Takte, die auf eine Fermate folgen, erklingen sozusagen mit einem Pokerface—technisch perfekt und mit kühlem Kopf, jedoch vielleicht mit einem süffisanten Ausdruck, der noch von dem Scherzen der vorangehenden Takte herrührt. Oder vielleicht wird auch überhaupt nicht gespottet. Nach einem Ausflug zur Oper in den ersten beiden Sätzen zollt Emanuel Bach dem größten Komponisten von allen Tribut—seinem Vater. Vielleicht sagt er, dass eine zweistimmige Invention letztendlich mehr wert ist als alle hübschen Bühnenbilder und Kostüme der Welt.

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

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