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Mahan Esfahani


  • Esfahani gave a flawless performance – highly virtuosic improvisations and joyously delivered with some breakneck speeds.
    Kölner Stadtanzeiger
  • Nothing could have prepared me for the brilliance and artistry of Mahan Esfahani, who, despite his young age, played with the musicality and virtuosity of a master ... not a single phrase lacked purpose or direction.
    Keyboard Magazine
  • Such virtuosity and disarming presentation suggests that Esfahani could inspire a whole new appreciation of the instrument.
    The Guardian
  • It would be hard not to be impressed by Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani ... In a beautifully chosen programme Esfahani’s touch was always insightful and, above all, visceral.
    The Guardian
  • With an instinctive sense of rhythm and a gift for interpretation, Esfahani has firmly established himself as one of today’s most thrilling harpsichordists.
  • The Harpsichord comes out of hiding ... magnificent.
    The Daily Telegraph
  • ...daring and fiery performances...
    The Times
  • Exhaustingly brilliant.
    The New York Times
  • Mahan Esfahani was born in Tehran in 1984 and received his first guidance on the piano from his father before exploring an interest in the harpsichord as a teenager. He went on to study musicology and history at Stanford University, where he was mentored by George Houle, before studying intensively with Peter Watchorn in Boston and completing his formation with the celebrated Zuzana Růžičková in Prague. He was a BBC New Generation Artist from 2008-2010, a Borletti-Buitoni Trust prizewinner, and in 2014 Mahan was on the shortlist both for the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist of the Year and Gramophone Artist of the Year - all firsts for the harpsichord. In 2015 he was honoured with the BBC Music Magazine ‘Newcomer of the Year’ award and was nominated in three categories for the Gramophone Awards - Best Baroque Instrumental, Best Instrumental, and again Artist of the Year.

    Since making his London debut in 2009 he has worked tirelessly to establish the harpsichord in the mainstream of concert instruments in classical and contemporary repertoire. This mission came to significant public attention when Mahan played the first harpsichord recital in the history of the BBC Proms in 2011. Since then, recent and upcoming highlights include solo performances at the Zurich Tonhalle, Cologne Philharmonie, Wigmore Hall and the Barbican Centre in London, Wiener Konzerthaus, Berlin Konzerthaus, Schloss Elmau, Munich’s Bell’Arte, the Frick Collection in New York, Sumida Symphony Hall in Tokyo, Denki Bunka Kaikan in Nagoya, the Aldeburgh Festival, the Bristol Proms at the Old Vic, the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, Petronas Hall in Kuala Lumpur, the Kilkenny Arts Festival in Ireland, the Bruges Concertgebouw, Mogens Dahl Koncerthus in Copenhagen, Pharos Arts Trust in Cyprus, Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds, the Rudolfinum in Prague, BRQ in Helsinki, the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, and the Leipzig Bach Festival. In 2015 he made a last-minute appearance as concerto soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, thus launching his North American career. The 2015-2016 sees a tour of China with the Britten Sinfonia and concerto and recital appearances in Spain, Poland, Australia, Estonia, Norway, Turkey, the United States, and Germany, as well as three returns to London’s Wigmore Hall.

    Following two successful albums for Hyperion Records - with C.P.E. Bach’s Württemburg Sonatas garnering a Gramophone Award and a Diapason d’Or, and the complete keyboard works of Jean-Philippe Rameau being named in the New York Times ‘Critics’ List of Top Recordings of 2014’ - Mahan Esfahani signed as an exclusive artist with Deutsche Grammophon. His first album for DG/Archiv, ‘Time Present and Time Past’ - a recording of music ranging from J.S. Bach and Scarlatti to Gorecki and Steve Reich - was released in Spring of 2015, garnering a ‘Choc de Classica’ in France. He also has recorded Byrd and Ligeti for Wigmore Live, winning yet another Gramophone nomination. Following a stint as Artist-in-Residence at New College, Oxford, he now continues his academic activities as professor of harpsichord at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

    • Recital with Thomas Hobbs (tenor)
      London Festival of Baroque Music, St John’s, Smith Square, London (May 2016)

      Esfahani, if you don’t know him already, approaches concerts with an impromptu flourish and some in-built randomness: not in his virtuosic playing but in the rest of the proceedings. It keeps you alert, which is not always true of an evening of harpsichord music. From a rich offering of the largely unfamiliar, the Sonata II, “Of Saul, Whom David Cured by Means of Music” (1700) by Johann Kuhnau stood out: flamboyant, expressive and ingenious.
      Fiona Maddocks, The Observer
    • Farnaby, Bach, Bartók et al
      Wimbledon International Music Festival, London (November 2015)

      No one has done more to popularise [the harpsichord] as a concert instrument in the present day than Iranian-American virtuoso Mahan Esfahani. He began his recital at the Wimbledon International Music Festival with three pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, in which the infectious rhythms of the delightfully named Nobodyes Gigge by Richard Farnaby were adroitly dispatched. Each movement of JS Bach’s magnificent E minor Partita, the finest of the set, was characterised appropriately – the flamboyant Toccata, the fluent Allemande, the poignant Sarabande – while the unsettled, even frenzied quality of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel’s Sonata in G was stylishly projected. There were also sparky miniatures by Bartók and Martinu, and death-defying cross-hand leaps in a Scarlatti encore, all flawlessly executed.
      Barry Millington, Evening Standard
    • Górecki Harpsichord Concerto, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Wit
      Barbican Centre, London (October 2015)

      The programme’s most consistently impressive item was the relatively brief Harpsichord Concerto, whose neo-classical motor rhythms were brilliantly articulated by soloist.
      George Hall, The Gaurdian
      Mahan Esfahani, the soloist, played this with a fine ear for pulse and colour.
      Anna Picard, The Times
      The short and spiky Harpsichord Concerto, rippling along in the hands of Mahan Esfahani.
      John Allison, The Telegraph
      An excellent performance, though, from the ever-versatile Mahan Esfahani, his technique clearly unchallenged by the music, which he presented with a lot of class.
      Gavin Dixon,
      Esfahani rendered this engaging piece with suitably deadpan elegance.
      Richard Whitehouse,
      In almost complete contrast, Gorecki’s miniature Harpsichord Concerto of 1980 was played with dizzying aplomb by Mahan Esfahani, accompanied by a chamber-sized string ensemble. Often seen as a light, skittish, work, the concerto has a darker aspect to its nine-minute duration. Esfahani, who recorded the work last year, has detected Gorecki’s feelings of frustration under Communism in the first movement’s tug between the harpsichord’s chordal shifts and the dead hand of the strings’ repeated rhythm. Even the last movement’s manic gaiety seems to suggest a Schnittke-like sarcasm.
      John-Pierre Joyce,
    • Bach, Powell and Reich
      St George’s, Bristol (October 2015)

      Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani’s virtuosic flair is at once nonchalant and scintillating. In his later recital, he delivered JS Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, and the Toccata in C minor with impeccable clarity of line and expressivity. He went on to make a subtle link with the cello suites in his own arrangement of the two gavottes from the Cello Suite No 5. And dance they did...Mel Powell’s vibrant play on past and present, Recitative and Toccata Percossa, offered a final brilliant flourish.
      Rian Evans, The Guardian
    • J.S. Bach Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 1)
      Kilkenny Arts Festival, St John’s Priory (August 2015)

      Esfahani, who was born in Tehran in 1984, makes music like someone who has an old head on young shoulders. He played the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier over two recitals as if there were nothing to be shown except the music itself, at once abstract and concrete, sober and flamboyant.
      Michael Dervan, The Irish Times
    • J.S. Bach Three Sonatas for viola da gamba & harpsichord, BRQ Festival
      Church of Saint Lawrence, Vantaa (August 2015)

      Luolajan-Mikkola and Esfahani’s interpretations were perfect in all respects. Luolajan-Mikkola played with a smooth singing voice that caressed the ear, whilst Esfahani’s enthusiastic responses were equally enjoyable. Although originally composed for organ, their instruments made Bach’s Trio Sonata in d minor sound superb. The applause echoed throughout the packed church.
    • Time Present and Time Past
      Deutsche Grammophon (0289 479 4481 2 CD DDD AH)

      If you buy only one record of harpsichord music in your life — and that’s a decision I would have some sympathy with – buy this sensational album. The 30-year-old Iranian-American Mahan Esfahani has been making waves among connoisseurs for several years. Now he emerges as a superstar whose musicianship, imagination, virtuosity, cultural breadth and charisma far transcends the ivory tower in which the harpsichord has traditionally been placed.
      Richard Morrison, The Times
      A model recording for any instrument, not just the harpsichord. Concertos? Three, one by Gorecki, one by Geminiani, another by J.S. Bach, all weightily played by the Concerto Köln. Florid, stylish solo works? Two, both — like the Geminiani — based on the ancient “La Folia” theme, by Alessandro Scarlatti and C.P.E. Bach. Mesmerizing novelties? Of course: Steve Reich’s “Piano Phase,” rearranged and overdubbed for single harpsichord. Exhaustingly brilliant.
      David Allen, The New York Times
      Lest we should think that the harpsichord exists merely to execute music of olden times, the brilliant young Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani here intersperses his Scarlatti and Bach with Henryk Górecki’s Harpsichord Concerto of 1980 and a harpsichord version of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase of 1967, originally conceived for two pianos…Esfahani at his vibrant and expressive best.
      Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph
      Mahan Esfahani’s new CD – the first harpsichord recital on the DG label in three decades – is, in a way, a concept album. Equating minimalism and baroque music is not new, but Esfahani, always a sparky and searching player, juxtaposes them here so as to create an unusually direct link. Three of the works from Time Past – by Alessandro Scarlatti, CPE Bach and Geminiani – are obsessive variations on the tiny sequence La Follia, and he and the robust yet elegant players of Concerto Köln end with Bach’s Concerto in D minor. In between comes Time Present, or at least Time Recent. Gorecki’s 1980 Harpsichord Concerto is initially heavy-going, with an oppressive first movement relaxing into something approaching joy in the second. More beguiling is Esfahani’s two-track recording of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase, in which the harpsichord creates new textures and effects, including moments when the music seems to leap out in 3D.
      Erica Jeal, The Guardian
      CPE Bach’s quirkily inventive La folia Variations, where Esfahani’s subtle overlapping legato fingerwork and intuitive grasp of the composer’s mood-swings are deeply impressive.
      Jed Distler, Gramophone
      Esfahani begins with Scarlatti’s Variations on “La Follia.” The player is learned, stylish, and bold. Virtuosic, too (although anything can be made pristine and slick in a studio). From Esfahani’s playing comes tremendous life or flash. The Górecki piece is a Concerto for Harpsichord and String Orchestra. It is in two movements, both of them fast: Allegro molto and Vivace. But the movements have completely different characters. The first is driving and virile; the second is lighter, peppier. Reich’s piece is Piano Phase for two pianos. Come again? It has been arranged for harpsichord—just one of them—by Esfahani...This performance is a feat of concentration and dexterity, and Esfahani’s arrangement is impressive. Time Present and Time Past is an appealing disc, and it’s interesting to know that, even in the twenty-first century, people are falling in love with the harpsichord and its possibilities, and expanding those possibilities.
      Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion
      The bewildering phase shifts in Steve Reich’s Piano Phase are simply spectacular. Esfahani performs them by playing together with a tape recording of himself. A common thread in the baroque works is La Follia, an often used ostinato theme, spinning circles in endless variations through the same chord scheme. However, the CD is first and foremost a special one because of Esfahani’s superior musicianship. His sparkling playing overcomes the image that is still sometimes attached to the harpsichord: that of a monotonous one-dimensional instrument.
      Frits van der Waa, de Volkskrant
      It's brilliant, abrasive, sometimes demented, but signals the arrival of a highly original artist.
      David Patrick Stearns,
      Unifying them even more, though, is the bullish spirit of Esfahani’s playing: this is intense, fiery, explosive musicianship, delivered with ferocious conviction, virtuoso flair and never a hint of academic meekness. Concerto Köln match his galvanising drive with sounds that are raw, lean and impassioned, whether in Bach’s brooding D minor concerto or the anarchic, obsessive and thoroughly startling Górecki. It’s an audacious and visionary project...Esfahani more than proves the versatility and colourful nature of the harpsichord....At this rate he’ll simply leave others standing – or, perhaps, combing through the embers.
      Jessica Duchen, Sinfini Music
    • Poulenc Concert champêtre, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
      Chicago Symphony Center (May 2015)

      The dashing soloist, playing a lovely-sounding, two-manual harpsichord, was the Iranian-born, British harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, substituting for Kristian Bezuidenhout, who had withdrawn for health reasons. He tossed off the animated sprays of notes with deft rhythmic attack and seemingly infallible fingers, setting the delicate timbres of his instrument in clear relief against the surrounding accompaniment. Esfahani follow[ed] the concerto with a solo encore: Rameau's "Gavotte and Variations," which gave his virtuosic mettle full rein.
      John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
    • Duo Recital with Avi Avital (mandolin)
      Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival (May 2015)

      Compared with the mandolin’s exquisite personal quality, the jangly mechanism of the harpsichord with its unvarying dynamic could have seemed very clunky, like listening to a dry Enlightenment philosopher next to a rhapsodic poet. It’s a tribute to Esfahani’s artistry that it never seemed that way. He made his harpsichord as spontaneous and romantic as Avital’s mandolin, by bending phrases in an expressive way, and using lightning-fast changes of registration to change the instrument’s colour. Most importantly, these two players have learned to breathe and move as one. In the encore, an exotic slow movement from a Vivaldi flute concerto arranged by Avital, there were numerous sensuous ornamental notes, shared between the two. The fact that often you couldn’t tell who was playing what made the music even more delicious.
      Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph
    • UK-DK, Michala Petri and Mahan Esfahani
      OUR 6.220611 (SACD: 66:27) (February 2015)

      Throughout the programme, well recorded in a Copenhagen church, Petri plays with immaculate tuning and finger technique, crisp tonguing and well-shaped melodic lines; Esfahani matchers her with well-judged colours and phrasing.
      Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine
      The OUR Recordings engineering team has balanced them against each other perfectly, but the success really is Petri's and Esfahani's, because they clearly are in synch with each other…Esfahani is an unusually expressive, colorful player, and I look forward to hearing him in a solo role—I probably will check out those Hyperion releases, now that I have heard him here.
      Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare
      I’ve gone on at some length without referring, except in passing, to the performances themselves. Perhaps that is because it goes without saying that anything this superstar pairing puts its hands to will be extraordinary.
      Ronald E. Grames, Fanfare
      Stylistically, this recording presents itself extremely multifaceted...Musically, Petri and Esfahani complement each other most beautifully...A phenomenal production, which is as enjoyable as it is profitable to listen to. We are looking forward to a sequel.
      Heinz Braun, Klassik Haute
    • Corelli Six Sonatas opus 5 no. 7-12
      OUR Recordings 6.220610 (November 2014)

      Petri and Esfahani’s is an invigorating ensemble effort, each sparking off the other to foster a captivating directness whether sparkling or soulful. Nothing is safe or reverential, and yet there’s no iconoclastic agenda either. Preludios are ideally urbane; an almost Bachian dialogue invades No. 8’s Giga, while La Folia emerges beautifully paced, artfully embellished and vividly characterised.
      Paul Riley, BBC Music Magazine (Chamber Choice, February 2015)
      Petri and Esfahani still manage to sound absolutely bewiching throughout this uncannily beautiful recording from Copenhagen`s Garnisionskirken. Such is the musical chemistry between them that one soon becomes fully attuned to hearing this familiar music performed on the recorder… Equally, if you`re happy enough with just harpsichord accompaniment alone, then look no further than Petri`s and Esfahani`s immaculately played and diligently prepared new accounts, which seem in every way the last word in tasteful and elegant musicianship, with a magical recording to boot.
      Michael Jameson, International Record Review
      It`s rare to experience the level of artistic rapport heard on this recording from Danish recorder player Michala Petri and Iranian-born harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani. Corelli`s op.5 provides the framework for a remarkable demonstration of not only rich, idiomatic possibilities for transcriptions from violin to recorder but, significantly, the extraordinary levels of dialogue (trs 1 and 15) and genuine inspiration of the moment it inspires. In Petri`s capable hands, the recorder becomes a medium through which she conveys a more vocal interpretation of thematic material than ever a violin could. From Corelli`s logical, elegant bass-lines, Esfahani crafts the most imaginative and engaging accompaniments and repartee I have ever heard, each phrase, sections and movement a skillful and stylish response (trs 1 and 14), to which he brings an astonishing range of techniques (trs 8 and 9) and instrumental colour (trs 13,17 and 19). The musical chemistry between the two musicians is palpable and most evident in the quick exchanges in the faster movements (trs 5,9,11 and 20). While there are movements of both sublime simplicity and compelling declamation (tr12), equally there is joyfulness and banter. Together, Petri and Esfahani take the application of ornamentation to new levels of sophistication (trs 2,3 and 16), exploring the implications of the music itself, commenting and reflecting on it by the way they choose the embellish repeats and points of imitation. This is a recording that will repay repeated listening as a masterclass in musical collaboration. It breaks new and higher ground.
      Julie Anne Sadie, Gramophone (Editor’s Choice)
      [Petri] and Esfahani bring an extraordinarily lively rhythmic flair to this music, clearly reveling in its dance roots. The music is always going somewhere, it always has momentum and a sense of direction. Esfahani is a true partner in this effort, taking a lead role where the music calls for it (the opening of the Gavotte from op. 5/11, for instance), and applying the same degree of imagination to phrase-shaping and to ornamentation as Petri does.
      Henry Fogel, Fanfare Magazine
      A very well produced album. Here are two different types of artist playing in astonishing harmony. Six beautiful sonatas performed and with equal ease and many frills.
      Søren Schauser, Berlingske Tidende
      Esfahani is a wonderful harpsichordist who follows with as much taste and self-confidence of his partner.
      Carsten Dürer, The Ensemble
      These players make an absolutely terrific duo in transcriptions that seem to fall so naturally to these instruments. The very fine recording from Garnisonskirken, Copenhagen, Denmark gives a nice acoustic around the players whilst retaining detail and clarity.
      Bruce Reader, The Classical Reviewer
      Fresh, communicative, joyful music-making…I do hope that they will do more together.
      Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 Building a Library
    • Wigmore Hall Live Byrd, J.S. Bach and Ligeti
      The Telegraph ‘168 Best Classical Music Recordings’

      So you think you hate the harpsichord? Iranian-born American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani will make you think again. He makes the music so vivid you forget the instrument’s limitations.
      The Telegraph
    • CPE Bach Württemberg Sonatas (Hyperion)
      The Sunday Times ‘100 Best Records of the Year Sunday Times’

      One of the first releases of the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach year revealed an emerging superstar in the Iranian-American harpsichordist.
      The Sunday Times
    • Rameau Pièces de Clavecin
      Hyperion Records CDA68071/2 (November 2014)

      A key factor in determining the longevity of an interpretation is the degree to which the performer succeeds in characterising the music and, on this point alone, top marks must go to Mahan Esfahani, who seems always to have its measure and brings unfailing wit, affection, fluency and pacing to his interpretations…Having just won a Gramophone Award for his superlative CPE Bach recording, Esfahani has surely trumped it with Rameau’s solo harpsichord works.
      Julie Anne Sadie, Gramophone
      Mahan Esfahani’s second Hyperion recording comprises Rameau’s keyboard works. This is stylish playing but rarely showy, firm but never heavy in dance movements, imbued with a natural wit in the character pieces. I could easily have picked his delightful disc of C. P. E. Bach’s Württemberg Sonatas as well.
      David Allen, The New York Times
      I found his playing delightful, intelligent and insightful. He has pleasingly clean articulation throughout and can play with muscularity or delicacy, (or both) as each piece demands. His is a really impressive account of Handel-inspired Gavotte and six doubles (variations) and the A minor Suite, where he never lets momentum sag and builds up to a thrilling climax. By contrast, his Les Soupirs from the D Major Suite is gossamer light and seems to suspend time in dreamy nostalgia. Ravishing! [...] Esfahani’s set is, on balance, very successful and can be recommended to diehards and neophytes alike.
      Andrew O’Connor, International Record Review
      Gramophone-Award-winning harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has recorded Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin in the historic setting of the Music Room at Hatchlands Park in Surrey. This is a masterclass for the instrument, confirming this young artist as a truly great player…This double album comprises the whole of Rameau’s output of keyboard suites, and Esfahani rejoices in its wealth of genius, its excitement and drama. Rameau is a composer whose revival is ongoing, and his unique combination of the witty and the cerebral, the light and the curmudgeonly, abounds throughout his harpsichord music.
      Philippe Ramin, Diapason
      Esfahani is the poet of the harpsichord. For people who don’t like harpsichordists he is the one that will convince you to listen. He’s such a beautiful player and he is totally natural. He understands the dramatics of each movement and he projects it and, for me, it is totally persuasive.
      Richard Morrison, BBC CD Review
      The Pièces de Clavecin (1724) and Nouvelle Suites de Pièces de Clavecin (c1729-30) [are] brilliant displays of wit and invention…Mahan Esfahani brings such portrayals vividly to life, and also offers sparkling accounts of less exotic items, such as the 1729 A minor suite's sad, dignified Allemande and fragile Sarabande…The set opens with the single-suite Premier Livre de Pièces de Clavecin (1707), so all of Rameau's essential solo works are included; and, thanks to Esfahani's persuasive and charming advocacy, they sound utterly entrancing here.
      Graham Lock, Early Music Today
      The Composer Years were Jean-Philippe Rameau's (250th anniversary of his death) and C.P.E. Bach's (300th birth anniversary), and breaking harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani proved nothing short of revelatory in the music of both. His recording of Rameau's complete Pieces de clavecin (Hyperion) makes it clear that he's the equal of Christophe Rousset in this repertoire, and very much his own man. And his Hyperion CD of the second-greatest Bach's Wuerttemberg Sonatas was widely considered the best of the C.P.E. celebrations.
      Tim Pfaff, The Bay Area Reporter
    • C.P.E. Bach, Benda, JG Graun Recital
      Brecon Baroque (October 2014)

      The tercentenary of the birth of Bach’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, was an added festival focus, and it’s a mark of its present calibre that no less a figure than harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani should give a recital with violinist Bojan Čičić. They brought finesse, virtuosity and insight to sonatas for violin and viola d’amore by Franz Benda and JG Graun as well as CPE Bach. Esfahani embodies the latter’s trademark expressive and sensitive Empfindsamer Stil, but this concert will also be unforgettable for his bewitching performance of the Harpsichord Sonata in F Sharp Minor, abruptly halted when a lady in the front row collapsed in a faint. Esfahani helped others lift her from the floor and carry her out. After returning to reassure the audience, he duly completed the final allegro. The gesture was another facet of the great humanity he brings to his music-making.
      Rian Evans, The Guardian
    • J.S. Bach Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 1)
      Snape Maltings (August 2014)

      Mahan Esfahani’s performance of the first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was even more riveting. For the gentle harpsichord to fill this venue is already an awesome task; the lighting was dropped almost to darkness, and Esfahani created a balance of tensions that shifted from calm to highly wrought, the singing lines emerging with consummate clarity. Serene, cerebral, playful, knotty, soulful, sometimes unashamedly virtuosic – Bach embraced everything. And by way of underlining the beautiful physics of it all – a prelude and fugue in each of the 12 keys rising semi-tone by semitone – Esfahani followed the final fugue in B minor with a return to the beginning, the now doubly ethereal Prelude No 1 in C major completing the circle. In a crazy world, something was made perfect. The message to take home, suggested Esfahani by way of quelling the applause, was that Bach is a way of life.
      Rian Evans, The Guardian
    • Couperin, CPE Bach, Takemitsu, et al.
      Wigmore Hall (July 2014)

      He’s a brilliant player — two days after this recital I’m still tingling over his forensic attack and silk-smooth arpeggios — but he also knows about friendly presentation… Dashingly eloquent, dizzyingly skilled, Esfahani makes the harpsichord seem an instrument reborn.
      Geoff Brown, The Times
      We were flung into dramatic scenarios, agitated disputes, ardent sermons, all brought to vivid life through the apparently dry, tinkly sound of a harpsichord...his passionate engagement with the music was totally captivating.
      Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph
      This was a splendid recital.
      Mark Berry, Seen and Heard International
    • Recital at Aldeburgh Music Festival
      Aldeburgh Parish Church (June 2014)

      There was more virtuosity again at Aldeburgh's parish church, where the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani embraced music from early 17th-century Bull and Gibbons to Bartók and Ligeti. In the latter's Continuum, seeing the effort expended was like watching someone pushing himself to the limit on a weight-machine in a gym, with an added aesthetic agenda. Esfahani's disarming ability to talk his listeners through the before-and-after of the experience matched his extraordinary technique.
      Rian Evans, The Guardian
      And, at Aldeburgh Parish Church in the afternoon, the Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani gave a revelatory recital in which, in each half, the quiet focus of pieces by John Bull and Orlando Gibbons intensified what was to come: extraordinary performances of extraordinary works by Martinů, Bartók (Three Dances in Bulgarian rhythm), and Ligeti — his Passacaglia ungharese and a mechanistic Continuum which made Esfahani grimace in pain and his audience in unmitigated pleasure.
      Hilary Finch, The Times
    • Byrd, Bach & Ligeti, Wigmore Hall LIVE
      Wigmore Hall LIVE – WHLive0066 (April 2014)

      With an instinctive sense of rhythm and a gift for interpretation, Esfahani has firmly established himself as one of today’s most thrilling harpsichordists.
      Martin Cullingford, Gramophone (Editor's Choice)
      Byrd’s Walsingham variations are enlivened by Esfahani’s animated pacing, incisive fingerwork and effortless distinction between legato and detached phrasings… Highly recommended.
      Jed Distler, Gramophone
      Esfahani marches and dances, sings, swaggers and prays, with a sensitive balance of delicacy and vigour. He brings intelligence and grace to the Ricercars and a canon from Bach’s Musical Offering, their contrapuntal lines spun with limpid clarity. But perhaps most striking are the dazzling realizations of three harpsichord pieces by György Ligeti. These eclectic soundscapes are splashed with the exotic colours of Hungarian folk music and the acidulous tunings of mean-tone temperament; they pulsate with the syncopations of jazz or the rhythmic complexities of late 14th-century ars subtilior, and they hypnotise with the ever-turning ground basses of Baroque laments or the repeating chord patterns of rock and pop. Esfahani communicates all this, and more, with giddying technique and a perceptive understanding of Ligeti’s mongrel idiom. His two harpsichords glimmer radiantly in the Wigmore’s fine acoustic.
      Kate Bolton, BBC Music Magazine (Editor’s Choice)
      He is a simply superb player. His technique is beyond criticism and his inherent musicianship goes far deeper than mere surface understanding… It is difficult not to warm to such a musician, and when one hears his performances of these Byrd pieces – so musical, so essentially re-creative in the best sense, with each note and phrase fully part of the piece itself – one can only applaud the young man's artistry. His sensitivity is of the highest, and the brilliance of his playing – especially in the Galliard to the Fifte Pavian and the Marche Before the Battell – is breathtaking. Both the Fantasia (No. 52 of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book) and the concluding piece in this selection, Walsingham, demonstrate the finest harpsichord playing I have ever heard, so much so that on hearing them at first, I was compelled to repeat the experience several times. Esfahani’s part-playing in the three J.S. Bach pieces, especially the Ricercar a 6, is positively enviable, a combination of clarity and expressivity of the subtlest kind, which makes this CD an urgent acquisition for lovers of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music. This music is more than interesting, and no composer could ask for more committed or enthralling accounts than these… By any standards, this is a recording of great distinction.
      Robert Matthew-Walker, International Record Review
    • Recital at the Library of Congress
      Washington DC (April 2014)

      Whenever the music offered fast-moving scales and figuration, as in J.S. Bach’s “Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue,” Esfahani ran with it, his agile fingers making remarkably clean and accurate contact with every key.
      Charles T. Downey, The Washington Post
    • Recital at Zürich Tonhalle
      Zürich, March 2014

      Esfahani gave a really exciting interpretation of CPE Bach's Wurttemburg Sonata No.2, where he was really in his element. He attractively peeled out the fickle nature of the first movement, cultivated the sensitive style of the Adagio and realised the effervescent virtuosity of the third movement... His interpretation of J.S. Bach's Partita No.2 in c minor again illuminated the personality of the musician.
      Thomas Schacher, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
    • CPE Bach, Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Fortepiano, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
      Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, February 2014

      The graceful phrases passed back and forth between soloists Mahan Esfahani and Danny Driver were lovingly shaped, and the contrast between the harpsichord’s silvery tinkle and the fortepiano’s drawing-room intimacy was a delight.
      Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph
    • CPE Bach, Württemberg Sonatas
      Hyperion CDA67995, January 2014

      This, his first solo disc, provides a particularly welcome introduction onto the world stage for an artist matching, in ‘expression’, CPE Bach himself.
      George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine (‘Recording of the Month’ - *****)
      He combines giddying technique with a supple rhythmic pacing and a huge variety of colour [...] If anybody embodies the future of this instrument, it’s Esfahani.
      Helen Wallace, BBC Music Magazine
      The elusive fusion of thematic intricacy, ‘Baroque’ rhetoric and ‘proto-Classical’ Sturm und Drang offered by the instrument are caught perfectly by Esfahani’s supple touch and disarming sense of rhetorical pacing.
      David Vickers, Gramophone
      In this winning performance by the young American-Iranian harpsichordist, one is taken aback by the avant-garde effects and abrupt changes of tempo and mood. The sound of his instrument — a reproduction based on models by the Berlin court harpsichord-maker Michael Mietke (d 1719) — enjoys a wide-ranging spectrum of timbres in Esfahani’s dexterous hands, but it is the verve of his allegros and the affecting pathos of his slow movements that mark him out as a special interpreter of this fascinating composer’s music in his tercentenary year.
      Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times
      Esfahani's performances wonderfully convey the sense of the younger Bach flexing his muscles in the new musical language that he was involved in creating. The instrument Esfahani plays them on, a modern copy of a harpsichord from the beginning of the 18th century, and the way it is tuned, seem to emphasise the transitional feel of the music, too; there's an almost fortepiano-like solidity to the sound, with crisp definition in both the high and low registers that matches its expressive ambitions perfectly.
      Andrew Clements, The Guardian
      As for his playing, in the best sense it is anything but unpredictable: sure-minded and vividly realized, it holds the attention with ease and is a pleasure to hear. This is an excellent recording and it can be thoroughly recommended. The harpsichord may never quite be mainstream material, but you sense that, if it were ever to get there, Esfahani might just be the man to make it happen.
      Peter Lynan, International Record Review
      The best of [CPE Bach’s] music reflects his personal sophistication, with no shortage of creative genius to turn this wide cultural awareness into excellent pieces that deserve a hearing. Such as the six Württemberg Sonatas on this new Hyperion album, featuring the truly exceptional, London based Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani. All six are lively and exuberant, full of youthful joie de vivre, and sometimes stunning technical effects, all of which are brought out by Esfahani’s light touch. The playing here is miles away from the clangorous, congested sound once so typical of harpsichord recitals, which caused the instrument to be denounced by Sir Thomas Beecham as like listening to ‘copulating skeletons’. Hopefully, we will get more new recordings from Esfahani. I’d love to hear him in some of Emanuel’s many keyboard concertos.
      David Mellor, The Mail on Sunday
      Mahan Esfahani here plays six fine early sonatas, delivered with glitter and glamour on the harpsichord. His intelligence, flair and freshness make the music leap off the page into powerful life. There’s a conviction here that demands recognition of the rebel Bach’s still underrated genius.
      Jessica Duchen, Sinfini Music
      His sense of musical freedom sets him apart from some of the more dogmatic players of previous generations. He allows the music plenty of room to breathe and lets the listener appreciate the often rhetorical or humorous nature of these sonatas. The E Flat Major is a case in point: the first movement’s question and answer elements are well delineated while the superbly lyrical second movement unfolds with admirable serenity… This fresh and insightful recording is a very welcome offering in this 300th anniversary year of CPE’s birth. More please.
      Tom Way, Limelight
    • Bach The Musical Offering, RNCM Chamber Music Festival
      Manchester Cathedral, January 2014

      The high point of the concerts I attended came the next evening in that same chilly space: a performance by the Academy of Ancient Music of JS’s The Musical Offering, and particularly its central six-part ricercar, played on the harpsichord by Mahan Esfahani. The audience could not have been more attentive. The musical thought was as loftily sustained as the building itself. I had a sudden feeling of the sublime.
      Paul Driver, The Sunday Times
    • Handel Concert, Academy of Ancient Music
      Kölner Philharmonie, September 2013

      As organist and harpsichordist, [Esfahani] gave a flawless performance of music by Handel with the Academy of Ancient Music at the Kölner Philharmonie – highly virtuosic improvisations and joyously delivered with some breakneck speeds.
      Kölner Stadtanzeiger
    • Byrd, Bach and Ligeti Recital
      Wigmore Hall (May 2013)

      With a programme of Byrd, Bach and Ligeti, and using two very different instruments, he shed light both on the harpsichord's first heyday and on its second as 1970s avant-gardists awoke to its unique possibilities. And if this Iranian-American has carved out a niche as his instrument's leading champion - his harpsichord Prom in 2011 was the first in that institution's history - his success is founded on remarkable artistry. The Ligeti pieces were off-the-wall, and that was how he played them...
      Michael Church, International Piano Magazine
    • Recital at Bath Bachfest
      Guildhall, Bath, (February 2013)

      Such virtuosity and disarming presentation suggests that Esfahani could inspire a whole new appreciation of the instrument.
      Rian Evans, The Guardian
    • The Art of Fugue (Bach Arr. Esfahani), Academy of Ancient Music
      Cadogan Hall, London (July 2012)

      Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani's arrangement of The Art of Fugue, premiered by Esfanahi and members of the Academy of Ancient Music, made Bach's counterpoint glisten so brightly you could imagine – faint hope – you could comprehend its intricate workings.
      Fiona Maddocks, The Observer
    • Oxford Philomusica Summer Baroque
      Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford (July 2012)

      Aged only twenty eight, of Iranian origin, Esfahani has to be regarded as one of the foremost musicians of his generation and as one of the leading harpsichordists since the revival of that instrument in the twentieth century.
      British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies
    • Recital at Paxton House
      Berwick-upon-Tweed (July 2012)

      It would be hard not to be impressed by Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani . . . In a beautifully chosen programme of Gibbons, d’Anglebert, Couperin, Ciaja and Bach, Esfahani’s touch was always insightful and, above all, visceral.
      Kate Molleson, The Guardian
    • Recital at the Frick Collection, New York City
      (April 2012)

      Mr. Esfahani offered an imaginative rendition of Rameau’s Gavotte and Variations, played with soulful flair and a sense of spontaneity…a colorful performance of William Croft’s Ground in C minor...Mr. Esfahani’s confident, characterful playing and tasteful ornamentation...Mr. Esfahani’s excellent performance of five Scarlatti sonatas, beginning with an elegant rendition of the Sonata in F minor (K. 462). Mr. Esfahani demonstrated impressive technique during the Sonata in G (K. 124) and again during the rapid-fire Sonata in D minor (K. 141).
      Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times
    • Recital at the Cleveland Museum of Art
      (April 2012)

      Esfahani established his credentials as a thoughtful, elegant player in four very different works by William Byrd...Esfahani found sense and structure everywhere while dazzling us with his digital prowess. J.S. Bach's English Suite No. 3 in g was sheerly delightful under Esfahani's fingers...Those who had already digested Esfahani's witty and evocative program notes probably tried to follow along with his game of assigning narratives to each of the pieces. Expressive rubatos, wild runs and arpeggios and sudden accelerandos only served to make their imagined stories more vivid. You could probably listen to these pieces all day without risking boredom...Esfahani is a quiet figure at the keyboard, but one who draws you powerfully into his own, personal intensity. His facial expressions are as arresting as his playing. The large audience responded more enthusiastically than I can ever remember for a harpsichord recital and Esfahani responded with a highly ornate, aria-like encore by Cimarosa. He needs to be invited back soon
      Daniel Hathaway, Cleveland Classical
    • J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations, Halifax Philharmonic Club
      (December 2011)

      The ideal interpreter of Bach’s astonishing genius…The harpsichord as an interpretative instrument never sounded so expressive. Mahan Esfahani’s wondrous technique, musicality and intensity of concentration made for an enthralling evening.
      Julia Anderson, Halifax Courier
    • York Early Music Festival
      (July 2011)

      Mahan Esfahani had earlier switched effortlessly between harpsichord and the more intimate virginals in toccatas, toyes and fancies from Elizabeth and Jacobean England. Always one to live dangerously, he took on some of the toughest pieces, notably Byrd’s Walsingham variations, and won the day with dazzling virtuosity. A maestro already, and still only 27.
      Martin Dreyer, York Press
    • Wigmore Hall recital with James Bowman
      May 2011

      Mahan Esfahani, who is quickly establishing himself as the leading harpsichordist of his generation', 'Esfahani is physically involved with his instrument, delighting in the sounds of its mechanism; rising from his seat as if his whole body is contributing to the production of sound, he positively foregrounds the instrument’s mechanism. Never does technique, albeit astonishing, outshine the music: an astounding array of tones and shades was matched by an attention to the expressivity of the dense counterpoint, and a concern to convey the power of harmonic tension and release.'
      Opera Today
    • Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall
      York University

      The work has a sarabande theme which frames 30 variations. They range from gentle doodles to lightning flashes. Esfahani was equal to them all. He varied the registrations on his two-manual instrument. But extra colours never clouded the clarity of the voices, even in Variation 10's fugue. He maintained this transparency in the whirlwind of Variation 12. His approach to the slower movements was extremely elastic, yet always persuasive, making the melancholy modulations of Variation 25 sound positively modern. Elsewhere, his fingerwork was dazzling, throwing off the impossibly speedy Variation 20 almost nonchalantly and making a startling toccata of Variation 29. This man has special powers. Bist Du Bei Mir (Stay By Me) as an encore was in keeping with the near-religious atmosphere he conjured. For this was nothing short of an act of worship.
      The Press, February 2011
    • J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations
      Old Town House of Haddington

      The young harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, in the Old Town House of Haddington, gave a wonderfully personal performance of the Goldberg Variations; sound and physicality both reflective of an individual emotional path taken through this most refined of works.
      Gramophone Magazine, November 2010
    • York Early Music Festival
      July 2010

      The Friday YEMF lunchtime recital (Unitarian Chapel) hosted a wide range of 17th and 18th-century harpsichord music by the excellent Mahan Esfahani. The programme opened with a Froberger toccata with dazzling keyboard skills, resulting in a polished and very animated performance. Indeed, as the Couperin confirmed, Mahan Esfahani is a consummate performer, playing with vitality, drive and authority... The opening of the Bach English Suite No.2 was like stepping into a musical Rolls Royce, the music sublime, the playing simply imperious.
      The Press
    • Wigmore Hall recital
      April 2010

      ..once seated at the keyboard, he becomes amazingly animated, his face registering every quiver of emotion, his right knee flying up when things get really animated…As for Esfahani’s playing, it makes maximum use of the harpsichord’s main expressive resources...the opening Adagio from Handel’s F major Suite, an impassioned song over a pacing left hand, took on a wonderful elastic quality. When the line arched upwards, the beat seemed momentarily pulled back; when it tumbled down, it urged forward, but never in a way that seemed mechanical. This was music, not the aural equivalent of a switchback.
      The Telegraph
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