The Toccatas: "Unbeatable performances" in Mahan Esfahani's new CD released by Hyperion

29 August 2019

Mahan Esfahani's latest CD, Bach: The Toccatas, released by Hyperion on 2 August 2019, has attracted fantastic reviews. Here Mahan discusses his thoughts behind the music and the recording process. The album has reached top ten on Billboard's Traditional Classical Chart, and top 15 on the overall Classical Chart, as well as top 5 in The Classic FM Chart.

"Under Mahan Esfahani’s fleet fingers and even fleeter imagination, they positively fly – invigorating vehicles for his custom-built harpsichord complete with thunderous 16-foot stop whose bottom Ds in BWV 913 sound like heralds of the apocalypse… Esfahani continually finds more in the music than the page might suggest…Fugues that in other performances outstay their welcome simply don’t. Esfahani perfectly understands the toccatas’ architecture, yet celebrates their quirkiness and, interrogating every note, is generous with expressive pauses.”
Paul Riley, BBC Music Magazine,
Instrumental choice: performance *****, recording *****
“[Mahan Esfahani’s] new disc of Bach’s Toccatas (Hyperion) conveys the spirit and expressive freedom of these seven early works, for which no single autograph source survives. Some serious detective work is required to address issues of ornamentation and phrasing, colour and clarity, which Bach would have expected to vary according to a performer’s taste. Esfahani, who explains their complex history in a detailed essay, has made his own new performing edition and reveals these familiar pieces to have mysteries we may never have suspected.”
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer
“Esfahani’s playing feels free and spontaneous without losing the underlying pulse of the music. The toccatas display their brilliance proudly. One can imagine the young Bach showing off his prowess just like this.”
Richard Fairman, The Financial Times****
The album that has recently given me the most joy has been Mahan Esfahani’s recording of Bach’s early keyboard Toccatas (Hyperion). You tend to think of harpsichords as timid creatures, the sound always kept on a leash. Not here: Esfahani’s new modern instrument, inspired by 18th century models, roars with a force and depth perfectly keyed to the power of his interpretations. Then there’s the music itself…a wonderful indulgence!…a wonderful indulgence!”
Geoff Brown, BBC Music Magazine
It should come as no surprise that Esfahani is undaunted by such challenges, but what really sets this album apart is not his fingerwork but the way he exploits the capabilities of his instrument to also bring out the drama in these showy works. Perhaps best washed down with a ruminative Dowland pavan or two to lower one’s pulse afterwards, his account of the seven toccatas is an exhilarating ride in the harpsichord equivalent of a souped-up sports car, driven by surely the finest and most assured driver alive today. I have no hesitation in predicting that this recording will scoop award after award.”
David Smith, Presto Classical
Mostly, though, it’s Esfahani’s force and interpretive flair that make this album so compelling. Feel his muscles in the proclamations of the first Toccata, a piece just as strenuous as its key signature, F sharp minor. Share his pain in the taut phrasing of the D minor Toccata, delightfully eased in the sprightly dance of its concluding fugue. The word “toccata”, as Esfahani points out, derives from the Italian “toccare”, meaning “to touch”, and it’s the physicality of his music-making that seems so right, both for his instrument and the music of a composer clearly delighting in muscle-flexing of his own.”
Geoff Brown, The Times*****
“A rare and, in its way, a thrilling and moving set of unbeatable performances.”
Robert Matthew-Walker, Musical Opinion Quarterly

Read the full reviews here.

Bach: The Toccatas is available from Hyperion Records (Downloads - mp3, ALAC, FLAC / CD)

Or on iTunes at

Church photo credit: Simon Perry

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