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Track(s) taken from CDA68311/2

Partita No 1 in B flat major, BWV825


Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Studio Master:
Studio Master:
Recording details: March 2020
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: June 2021
Total duration: 19 minutes 7 seconds

Cover artwork: Character head (1770-83) by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783)
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York / Art Resource / Scala, Firenze

Other recordings available for download

Lucy Carolan (harpsichord)
James Rhodes (piano)
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Angela Hewitt (piano)


‘Esfahani imparts a distinct character upon each of the three sections of the Second Partita’s Sinfonia. He arpeggiates the Grave adagio’s opening chord in slow motion, and continues to probe the music at free-floating leisure (imagine if Ennio Morricone had recomposed these seven bars!), easing his way into the Andante’s two-part counterpoint, in contrast to the final section’s headlong intensity. His subtle agogic stresses in the Courante create a slightly tipsy aura that will keep you alert, not to mention the Rondeaux’s emphatic off-beat accents and the hefty kick of the Capriccio finale’s left-hand octave coupling … [his] decisions regarding tempos and articulation throughout each of the Fourth Partita’s movements add up to one of this big work’s most satisfying recorded interpretations, highlighted by a hypnotic, deliberately unfolding Allemande … there’s no questioning Esfahani’s inquiring musical mind and absolute mastery of his instrument’ (Gramophone)

‘If the first volume of Mahan Esfahani’s foray into Bach’s keyboard music showcased the youthful flamboyance of the Toccatas, the sequel embraces a composer pushing at the boundaries of the suite, upscaling its possibilities through an encyclopaedic assault buttressed by assorted national styles, compositional techniques old and new and an array of ‘Galantieren’ ranging from Rondeau and Capriccio to Burlesca and Scherzo. All keyboard life is there, and they raise plenty of issues for a performer. Esfahani is keen to tackle them head on, and his liner notes make for required reading … Trevor Pinnock (on Hänssler) or Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi) offer less idiosyncratic readings, but then Esfahani has never been one to play it safe. BWV 825’s ‘Menuet 1’ has the solidity of a bürgermeister mindful of his respectability, but its da capo positively boogies, darting embellishments doing the not-so-heavy lifting. A set not for everyone perhaps; but at its pungent best, Esfahani’s joie de vivre can be uniquely captivating’ (BBC Music Magazine)» More

‘Part of the startling immediacy and modernity of Mahan Esfahani's performances comes from the range of sounds his modern harpsichord can produce, with its rich bass register … but also the breadth of Esfahani's imagination, his sense of theatre, his willingness to explore and experiment. It might be too much for some, but it'll be a revelation to others’ (BBC Record Review)

‘Esfahani is a passionate performer rather than a scholarly purist and chooses the readings, like his choice of instrument, that make most musical sense to him—the sources he has consulted are all listed … the instrument delivers a smooth and homogenous performance under Esfahani’s nimble fingers, and—as always—his readings, as well as his playing, challenges many of the more conventional ‘period instrument’ assumptions … I recommend this recording not just for its well-argued and committed performances but for Esfahani’s challenging approach. He is on the way to recording all Bach’s keyboard for Hyperion, and if you like his style they will be well worth watching out for’ (Early Music Review)» More

‘While I like Colin Tilney’s expressiveness, Trevor Pinnock’s forthrightness, Robert Wooley’s sense of architecture, Pascal Dubreuil’s élan and Masaaki Suzuki’s grace in this repertoire, I love Esfahani’s rigor and clarity … the opening Sinfonia of the Partita No 2 in C Minor is glorious, the spacious, spread chord of the first bar establishing a dramatic tension which underpins the subsequent faster sections of the movement. Well-dramatised, too, are relationships among movements, such as those among the flowing Fantasia, the busy Corrente, the transparent Sarabande, the bustling Burlesca and the exciting Gigue in the Partita No 3 in E minor. Which sets up the sunny, tirade-streaked Ouverture in the following Partita No 4 in D just nicely. And its bittersweet cousin, the Sarabande in the same suite. Some of the best playing here can be found in Esfahani’s improvisatory and beautifully characterised account of the fifth Partita’s Praeambulum—which again points ahead to the sixth Partita’s opening Toccata, as thrilling an account as you’re likely to hear anywhere’ (Limelight, Australia)» More

‘Mr Esfahani does not slavishly follow historical performance practice creeds. Bach’s six keyboard partitas are essentially suites of 18th-century dance forms with distinctive rhythms, each preceded by an introduction. Mr Esfahani renders them with super-charged technical flair and a point of view. In the opening Toccata of the sixth partita, his tempo is slower than most, but the momentum never sags, and his playing is expressive. His jubilant take on the Capriccio of the second partita captures the maniacal quality in much of Bach’s most virtuosic writing. The harpsichordist’s performance of the third partita goes from strength to strength: touchingly wistful in the Allemande, stately in the Sarabande and vibrant in the Burlesca, where imaginative registration choices for some chords accent the section’s jaunty, humorous character … [Esfahani] invariably proves stimulating’ (Wall Street Journal)

‘I’ve always admired Mahan Esfahani as one of the finest keyboard players of his generation. This latest recording in his Bach solo keyboard cycle, the Six Partitas published as Clavier-Übung I, once again reasserts 'his interpretive flair, expressive freedom and meticulous scholarship' … these are compelling and imaginative readings, both bold and convincing, captured in superb sound. Microphone placement is ideal. Esfahani has written his own scholarly liner notes in which he discusses the texts he’s used and his personal choices’ (MusicWeb International)» More
In publishing his Opus 1, Bach most probably wanted to begin with something highly accessible and attractive, yet worthy of his art. The Partita No 1 in B flat is certainly the most approachable of the six, and the one most pianists attempt first. It continues in the spirit of the French Suites, combining grace, agility, sprightliness, and nobility. The trill at the opening of the Praeludium is the first problem to solve—especially since it has to be played with equal precision later on by the left hand. This is a movement of beautiful proportions with a built-in crescendo at the end (Bach doubling the left hand in octaves). The themes of almost all the subsequent dance movements are centred around a broken B flat major chord—the Allemande with its unbroken line of semiquavers, the Corrente with triplets, the first Menuet in quavers. The Sarabande unfolds with great dignity and calm despite Bach’s florid melody and trills. To finish Bach wrote what has surely become one of his ‘greatest hits’: the brilliance of the hand-crossing in the Giga, once mastered, is exciting to both player and audience alike.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 1997

En publiant son Opus 1, Bach voulait certainement commencer par quelque chose de très accessible, attrayant, mais digne de son art. La Partita nº 1 en si bémol est à coup sûr la plus abordable des six pièces, celle à laquelle la plupart des pianistes s’essaient en premier. Elle reprend l’esprit des Suites françaises, combinant grâce, agileté, gaieté et noblesse. Le trille qui débute le praeludium est le problème le plus important à résoudre—notamment parce qu’il doit être joué plus tard, avec une égale précision, par la main gauche. Il s’agit d’un mouvement de proportions magnifiques, avec un crescendo à la fin (Bach doublant la main gauche en octaves). Les thèmes de presque tous les mouvements de danses suivants sont centrés autour d’un accord arpégé en si bémol majeur—l’allemande, avec sa ligne ininterrompue de doubles croches, la corrente avec triolets, le premier menuet en croches. La sarabande se déroule avec dignité et calme, malgré la mélodie très ornée et très chargée de fioritures. L’œuvre s’achève sur ce qui est indubitablement devenu un des «plus grands succès» du compositeur: une fois maîtrisée, la brillance du croisement de mains dans la giga est excitante et pour l’interprète et pour l’auditoire.

extrait des notes rédigées par Angela Hewitt © 1997
Français: Hypérion

Mit der Veröffentlichung seines Opus 1 wollte Bach wahrscheinlich erstmals zugängliche und ansprechende Musik darbieten, die seiner Kunst dennoch Ehre machte. Die Partita Nr. 1 in B-Dur ist zweifelsohne die leichteste Partita dieser Sechsergruppe, an der sich die meisten Pianisten zuerst versuchen. Sie setzt die Stimmung der Französischen Suiten fort und verbindet Anmut, Gewandtheit, Schwung und Noblesse. Der Triller zu Beginn des Präludiums ist die erste Hürde, die es zu meistern gilt—besonders angesichts der Tatsache, daß er später mit der gleichen Präzision in der linken Hand zu spielen ist. Dieser Satz weist herrliche Proportionen auf und enthält ein zum Abschluß eingebautes Crescendo (Bach verdoppelt die Oktaven in der linken Hand). Die Themen fast aller nachfolgenden Tanzsätze drehen sich um einen gebrochenen B-Dur-Akkord—die Allemande mit ihrer ungebrochenen Linie von Sechzehntelnoten, die Courante mit ihren Triolen und das erste Menuett in Achteln. Die Sarabande entfaltet sich trotz Bachs reich verzierter Melodie und Triller mit Gelassenheit und Würde, und der Schlußteil ist zweifellos einer von Bachs „größten Erfolgen“: Die brillanten Handkreuzungen in der Giga begeistern, sofern sie erst einmal gemeistert sind, Spieler und Publikum auf gleiche Weise.

aus dem Begleittext von Angela Hewitt © 1997
Deutsch: Manuela Hübner

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