Time Present and Time Past

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: CPE and JS Bach,Geminiani and Reich,Gorecki,Scarlatti
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Time Present and Time Past
WORKS: Works by Scarlatti, Górecki, CPE and JS Bach, Geminiani and Reich
PERFORMER: Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord); Concerto Köln
CATALOGUE NO: 479 4481

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Mahan Esfahani typically combines old and new in his recital programmes so it’s no surprise to find him time-travelling for this Deutsche Grammophon debut – the first harpsichord disc the ‘yellow label’ has released in over 30 years. There’s more to his time machine than mere juxtaposition though. Three sets of variations on the La Follia theme exemplify the notion of patterning which is further teased out in the 20th-century minimalism of Górecki’s fast-then-faster Concerto of 1980, and Steve Reich’s seminal Piano Phase for Two Pianos. The latter’s kaleidescopic ear games are reassigned to harpsichord and Esfahani multi-tracks, encouraging the overtones of his voluptuous mid-18th-century Dutch-style instrument to engineer a richly ricocheting soundscape. (Reich sceptics might be reminded of a burglar alarm that can’t be silenced!)

The Górecki is similarly pugnacious and in the first movement the strings of Concerto Köln produce an almost organ-like sonority at whose heels the harpsichord snaps like an excitable terrier. Laced with plenty of sly humour, Esfahani’s pert perusal of Scarlatti’s Variations on ‘La Follia’ speaks as much of the operatic stage as the keyboard, and his CPE Bach is eminently pliable, graced by ornaments turned with almost impossibly stylish elegance. Still, it’s Papa Bach’s bullish Concerto that steals the day, thanks to the sheer verve and bounce with which Esfahani attacks its tightly-coiled Sturm und Drang. Provocatively he slips a Brahms cadenza into the third movement without so much as a blink. Time Present and Time Past sets up an engaging dialogue, and does it with vivacity to spare.
 

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Paul Riley