WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

C. P. E. Bach: Wurttemberg Sonatas / Mahan Esfahani

Bach / Esfahani
Release Date: 01/14/2014 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67995   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Mahan Esfahani
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  
On sale! $19.98
CD:  $16.99
Low Stock

Notes and Editorial Reviews

‘This Iranian-American has carved out a niche as his instrument’s leading champion … his success is founded on remarkable artistry’ (International Piano)

‘Such virtuosity and disarming presentation suggests that Esfahani could inspire a whole new appreciation of the instrument’ (The Guardian) Hyperion is delighted to present the debut recording of the wonderful young harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani. He was the first harpsichordist to be named a BBC New Generation Artist or to be awarded a fellowship prize by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

Here Mahan Esfahani has recorded CPE Bach’s six ‘Württemberg’ sonatas, which were written in 1742–3
Read more and published in 1744, and his thrillingly intense performances make the best possible case for this dramatic, beautifully written, endlessly imaginative but for some reason under-performed music. The sonatas range stylistically from initial stirrings of Sturm und Drang in keyboard music to sublime imitations of the human voice, with nods to the High Baroque and the idiom of CPE Bach’s more famous father. Mahan writes in his booklet notes that ‘Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach makes the most combative statement possible to assert his new musical language’.

R E V I E W S:

Dr Charles Burney, visiting CPE Bach in Hamburg, declared him ‘the best player [that ever existed], in point of expression’. 'He grew so animated and possessed,’ wrote Burney, ‘that his eyes were fixed, his under lip fell and drops of effervescence distilled from his countenance.’ Burney heard him playing a quiet Silbermann clavichord in his elegant music room. But he’d surely have been no less enthusiastic about the eloquent playing of Mahan Esfahani in his more ‘public’ performance of these relatively neglected Sonatas. Esfahani uses a Czech copy of a harpsichord from Bach’s time, with warm 4’ strings (an octave above written pitch). His excellent liner notes explain that these strings are plucked nearer the middle than is usual, giving a 'flute-like' and 'singing quality'. The effect is strikingly impressive.

The instrument is tuned with 'an amalgam of various temperaments’ (tuning systems). Despite an unequal temperament, which can make some of the less-often used keys sound out of tune, the instrument copes equally well throughout the wide range of keys that Bach calls for, including such extremes as B major (No. 6, second movement) and E flat minor (No. 5, Adagio). I suspect there may have been a little judicious tinkering with tuning between Sonatas to allow this; keys are distinctive and characterful, yet remain beautifully sonorous.

The Sonatas are remarkably varied. No. 1 opens with dramatic ‘Sturm und Drang’ (storm and drive) as Esfahani takes subtle liberties with the pulse to emphasise moments of silence. His exceptional sustained touch creates a warm legato in the second movement, while the third is alive with sparkling staccato.

He’s at his most expressive in the slow movements — the Adagio of the Third Sonata, the charming trio of No. 4, worked out as precisely as the three-part Sinfonias of CPE Bach’s father. The Fifth Sonata has barely established its home key before winding sinuously into noticeably remote areas. But the final Sonata, in B minor, is the most overtly expressive of all: the first movement becomes a rhythmically perplexing fantasia as powerful off-beat chords destroy the opening pulse; the second movement mixes languid sighs with questioning pauses; while the finale is a refreshingly simple two-part invention.

Mahan Esfahani has built his career to date on live performance in concerts, as artist in residence at New College, Oxford, as the first harpsichordist ever to give a solo recital at the BBC Proms, and as a conductor, director and arranger -his orchestration ofJS Bach’s Art of Fugue for the Academy of Ancient Music had its premiere at the 2013 Proms. This, his first solo disc, provides a particularly welcome introduction onto the world stage for an artist matching, in expression’ CPE Bach himself.
Performance: 5 (out of 5); Sound: 5 (out of 5)

-- George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine [2/2014]

Given their importance and their status as masterpieces, C.P.E. Bach’s Württemberg Sonatas enjoy remarkably few recordings that have remained available for any length of time. The First Sonata, in A minor, remains the best known, possibly on account of its flashy finale, but the remainder are no less worthy. Bach’s reputation rests almost exclusively on his works in minor keys, but he is no less inventive in major keys–just more subtle. I am thinking, for example, of the wittily subversive rising chromatic lines for left hand in the finale of Sonata No. 2, cast in the unusual (for the period) key of A-flat major.

Harpsichordist Mahan Esfanani plays this music with unabashed delight in its virtuosity and unpredictable twists and turns. The quirky first movement of Sonata No. 3 constantly surprises, but it also holds together remarkably well–a function of good timing at just the right tempo. In the poignant slow movements, Esfahani charts a firm course through Bach’s elaborate ornamentation, aided in no small degree by an instrument able to realize plausibly the carefully indicated dynamics (even the pianissimos). He also adopts a sensible attitude towards second-half repeats in the quick movements, observing some, and omitting others.

Hyperion’s sonics are warmly realistic. There are some moments in the more thickly written passages where Esfahani’s instrument threatens to turn hard-toned, but that comes with the territory. On the whole there is a welcome absence of mechanical noise, and the listener’s attention remains firmly focused on the music. I suspect few readers have heard these works or know them at all well. If so, then you’re missing a great experience. Give this a try. You won’t regret it.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Read less

Works on This Recording

Sonatas (6) for Keyboard, Wq 49: no 6 in B minor/H 36 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Mahan Esfahani (Harpsichord)
Period: Classical 
Written: Berlin, Germany 
Sonatas (6) for Keyboard, Wq 49: no 5 in E flat major/H 34 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Mahan Esfahani (Harpsichord)
Period: Classical 
Written: Berlin, Germany 
Sonatas (6) for Keyboard, Wq 49: no 4 in B flat major/H 32 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Mahan Esfahani (Harpsichord)
Period: Classical 
Written: Berlin, Germany 
Sonatas (6) for Keyboard, Wq 49: no 3 in E minor, H 33 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Mahan Esfahani (Harpsichord)
Sonatas (6) for Keyboard, Wq 49: no 1 in A minor, H 30 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Mahan Esfahani (Harpsichord)

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Exhilarating!  July 18, 2014 By Kefyn Catley (Blaine, TN) See All My Reviews "These sonatas were new to me and it’s been great fun exploring more of CPE’s works among the spate of recordings celebrating the 300th anniversary of his birth. Stimulating, innovative and endlessly creative music consummately played and recorded. Very satisfying." Report Abuse
Review This Title