Some musicians go further than others in creating their own solo concerts or albums; study of manuscripts with autographs; writing program notes; restlessly asking how a familiar piece is played. As a solo harpsichordist seeking to bring the instrument back to the mainstream, Iranian-American Mahan Esfahani commissioned new works and revised old ones in a multitude of ways. On his latest album Bach: Italian Concerto and French Overture (Hyperion), he considers the tasks of Bach’s engravers and copyists, possible errors that occur and how they should be interpreted by the performer. The dual question of what is authentic and what is musical is at the heart of Esfahani’s ever-living and inexhaustible questions.
Playing a 2018 instrument made in Prague, where he now lives, Esfahani brings grandeur and clarity to Bach’s familiar Italian concerto. The short opening is supple and majestic, the slow movement is a sensuous dialogue between a fluid, exploratory right hand and a poised, lute-like left hand. In the presto of the last movement, Esfahani flies at top speed and with brilliant virtuosity. The colors that he brings to all the local works, including the B flat capriccio “on the departure of his beloved brother”, make you enjoy the sonic possibilities of the harpsichord in a new way.
Inspired by her childhood tendency to tell her secrets not to a toy but to a violin, Lisa BatiashviliX Secret love letters with the Philadelphia Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon) unites works united by a strong attraction, which Batiashvili defines as love. Two works, César Franck’s Sonata in A Major and Debussy’s tiny Beau Soir, are written for violin and piano. Two for soloist and orchestra: Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Chausson’s Concerto. Poem.
We benefit from Yannick Nézet-Séguin, both a conductor and a perpetually looking pianist. He and Batiashvili find hidden corners to explore in Frank, where both play with delicacy and passion. Szymanowski, an outpouring of anxiety as well as warmth, and Chausson, full of expressive longing, bring out the quality of the golden tone of the soloist and the orchestra.