Mahan Esfahani, Harpsichord (Wigmore Hall Early Music and Baroque Series )
There is nothing quite as unpleasant as London – especially the underground – in the heat. But stepping in to the Wigmore Hall had a decidedly cooling effect. Mahan Esfahani gave an utterly wonderful performance. I don’t think anyone could have doubted that it was the humidity which caused any beads of perspiration as Esfahani pored over the harpsichord.
It proved a highly educational experience too – Esfahani not only provided useful programme notes but introduced some of the pieces himself. It was almost an academic exercise. Couperin’s 26e ordre from Quatrième livre de pièces de clavecin was an utter delight – each movement was brought to life: the clown in particular was executive very cleverly. Bach’s Well-tempered clavier and Toccata was a thrill. C. P. E. Bach’s Sonata no 2 was all the more enjoyable for Esfahani’s exposition. It was written for Frederick II (of Russia). In the programme he is described by Esfahani as a ‘hipster’ but he explained from the stage Frederick was an enthusiastic musician if nothing else. When the French ambassador visiting Frederick’s court exclaimed “what rhythm”, CPE Bach is alleged to have responded “what rhythms”.
After the interval was just as enjoyable: what music indeed. Benda’s 4th sonata, delivered superbly, opened up things wonderfully. Perhaps the most interesting piece was a modern one after the interval. Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Dreaming (1986) fitted surprisingly well – creating remarkably evocative textures. Entirely new to me, and it if is to you, have a look at this. It was new to me, and I really enjoyed it. Surprisingly, it fitted well. CPE Bach’s Sonata no 4 brought things to a more conventional close.
The first encore, a Rameau piece was perhaps the most splendid.
Two trips to the Wigmore Hall in a week! Jaroussky wooed his audience more overtly, with Hallmark greetings, flowers and chocolates (musically speaking); Esfahani invited us to recline by a beautiful rusticated fountain in the gardens of Versailles. Both were compulsive.
Overall: what rhythms indeed.