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Poul Ruders: Harpsichord Concerto

Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord); Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Leif Segerstam (OUR Recordings)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Poul Ruders
Harpsichord Concerto
Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord); Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
OUR Recordings 9.70896   21:01 mins

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A sometime harpsichordist himself Poul Ruders describes this concerto (which was premiered in 2020 by the present performers) as ‘an opportunity to create the perfect symbiosis between “yesterday” and “today” without slipping into hackneyed neo-classicism’. No fear of the latter. His opulent, shape-shifting orchestration even embraces Bergian expressionism at one point in the first movement. It’s a movement marked Avanti Risoluto, and if the orchestra initially sounds rather more lumbering than resolute, the focus sharpens as the harpsichord slyly inserts itself, and Mahan Esfahani revels in the incisive moto perpetuo and rhythmic wrong-footing. It’s fidgety stuff, yet without the finale’s undertow of menace, itself a fevered and feverish Vivace Martellato that takes no hostages. And, like the first movement, it signs off with an enigmatic shrug.

Between them stands an Andante in which the orchestra is a brooding presence against which Esfahani articulates a delicate, gently probing cantilena. Despite subtle amplification of the harpsichord, this live recording doesn’t resolve all the issues of balance between soloist and orchestra. While this digital EP bearing the composer’s imprimatur presumably reflects his vision for the piece, and notwithstanding Esfahani’s scintillating contribution, more recordings will surely follow of this fine concerto.

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Paul Riley