JS Bach • Byrd • Ligeti

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COMPOSERS: Byrd,JS Bach,Ligeti
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
ALBUM TITLE: Mahan Esfahani: Bach, Byrd, Ligeti
WORKS: JS Bach: Musical Offering, BWV 1079: Ricercar a 3; Ricercar a 6; Canon a 2 per tonos; Byrd: Clarifica me, Pater I-III; Fantasia (Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, No. 52); John come Kiss me now; Fancie (My Ladye Nevells Book, No. 41), etc; Ligeti: Passacaglia ungherese; Continuum; Hungarian Rock
PERFORMER: Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)


Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani contrasts and connects the keyboard works of William Byrd, Bach and Ligeti in this concert recital recorded at London’s Wigmore Hall. In his liner notes – eloquent as his playing – Esfahani dubs Byrd ‘the father of Bach and Beethoven and Chopin and Liszt’. Certainly the opening sequence captures the gamut of Byrd’s genius, as battle pieces sit cheek by jowl with courtly dances, variations on 16th-century pop songs give way to cerebral and intricate fantasias or spiritual musings on plainchants. Esfahani marches and dances, sings, swaggers and prays, with a sensitive balance of delicacy and vigour.

He brings intelligence and grace to the Ricercars and a canon from Bach’s Musical Offering, their contrapuntal lines spun with limpid clarity. But perhaps most striking are the dazzling realisations of three harpsichord pieces by György Ligeti. These eclectic soundscapes are splashed with the exotic colours of Hungarian folk music and the acidulous tunings of mean-tone temperament; they pulsate with the syncopations of jazz or the rhythmic complexities of late 14th-century ars subtilior, and they hypnotise with the ever-turning ground basses of Baroque laments or the repeating chord patterns of rock and pop. Esfahani communicates all this, and more, with giddying technique and a perceptive understanding of Ligeti’s mongrel idiom. His two harpsichords glimmer radiantly in the Wigmore’s fine acoustic.


Kate Bolton