Following his critically acclaimed Rameau and CPE Bach on Hyperion, Mahan Esfahani steps out in style on DG Archiv with this concept album mixing Baroque with Minimalism. I was a little alarmed at his relentless drive through Scarlatti’s La Folia Variations, but the mania is held in check by rigour and discipline. Gorecki’s Harpsichord Concerto is a strangely disturbing piece with its first movement infuriatingly like a broken-record while the second, a baroque mash-up, evokes Jerry Lee Lewis in a powdered wig.
Esfahani is in his element in CPE Bach’s La Folia romp and his double tracked version of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase is a tour de force; stunningly accurate with the harpsichord’s pin-point precision helping to delineate the pattern as it shifts in and out of phase. The programme concludes with a magnificent account of Bach’s BWV1052 Concerto performed with intensity and gravitas, as befits a work of abstract intellect allied to sensuous pleasure. Esfahani’s articulation and subtle timing is a wonder, uncovering details that often fly by in the rush.
Concerto Köln fully supports his aesthetic with austere beauty of tone and focused rhythmic point. Their employment of a lute in the continuo makes especial sense in the concerto adding a delightful ‘thunk’ to the many pedal notes. Esfahani’s programme essay is smart and intelligent and sound quality is state-of-the-art with those vital bass notes in the Bach given ample weight.