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Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord) (Hyperion)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Takemitsu: Rain Dreaming; H Cowell: Set of Four; Kaija Saariaho: Jardin Secret II; Gavin Bryars: After Handel’s Vesper; Anahita Abbasi: Intertwined distances; L Ferrari: Programme commun ‘Musique socialiste?’
Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)
Hyperion CDA68287   79:10 mins

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Harpsichord soloist Mahan Esfahani has made something of a name for himself as an enfant terrible of the early music world. His dazzling performances and imaginative recital programmes have forged his reputation as an artist to be reckoned with, and this compelling new disc of contemporary music – described by Esfahani as ‘the culmination of years of thinking about under-served areas of harpsichord repertoire’ – finds him on suitably fiery form.

Spanning nearly 60 years of composition, the repertoire selected still feels refreshingly new. Henry Cowell’s Set of four, composed in 1960, draws nominally on baroque and classical forms but adventures across the keyboard with fabulous invention and is performed with poise and vitality by Esfahani. The most recently composed work to be included, Intertwined distances (2018) by Anahita Abbasi, explores ideas of space, expanding the soundworld of the harpsichord through highly effective electronic effects to conjure bold new colours. Other highlights include Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Dreaming (1986), a work that shifts repeatedly between the serene and the tumultuous in its striking evocation of water, and Kaija Saariaho’s Jardin secret II (1986) which combines amplified solo harpsichord with electro-acoustic sounds that sigh, stutter and tick amid virtuosic clusters of trills from the soloist.

Esfahani is a passionate and gifted advocate of new music, but as his colourful preface in the sleeve notes describes, he has faced remarkable resistance from certain audience members who remain insistent that the harpsichord is best preserved as an ‘old instrument’. Exploratory, imaginative and stylishly performed, this disc provides an excellent rejoinder.

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Kate Wakeling