The Iranian-American player’s brilliant debut disc of CPE Bach’s Württemberg Sonatas was my first album of the week in 2014, and won a Gramophone
award in September. This Rameau collection is his second disc for the label—and last, as he’s been signed by Deutsche Grammophon—and it again reveals a special player of his sometimes brittle and recalcitrant instrument. I don’t think I have heard a harpsichord sound as supple and rich in colours as the beautiful Ruckers-built (1636), Hemsch-adapted (1763) instrument he plays in these wonderful pieces. (From the picture in the booklet, it looks a masterpiece of art as well as music.) Rameau’s five suites rank with the finest keyboard music of the first half of the 18th century, but they remain neglected by the side of masterpieces by Handel and Bach. Esfahani’s magnetic advocacy could change all that. His rhythmic verve, wide spectrum of tone colour and joie de vivre is evident throughout, but he makes something really special of the A minor suite’s concluding gavotte (a brilliant set of variations), and of the most famous of the pieces, La Poule
, the clucking, pecking hen.