September 26, 2023


Arts Eternal

Review: Mahan Esfahani proves there’s more to the harpsichord than Bach and the Baroque

The viewers was smaller. The slight keyboard instrument painted eco-friendly on the stage was not imposing. Past the to start with couple rows of Walt Disney Live performance Corridor Wednesday, the fragile sound it designed was faint. But it was exquisite over and above evaluate.

The harpsichord can be a thankless instrument. The participant has tiny handle in shaping its seem. The strings are plucked, which signifies overlook dynamics, a person of music’s most expressive characteristics. Unamplified, it is way too soft for everything but the most personal of halls, and when employed with an ensemble (the way it’s most frequently encountered in concert), it is rarely listened to at all. Composers had very substantially given up on the harpsichord by the conclude of the 18th century, though it bought a revival of kinds in the 20th. Only a handful of harpsichordists have develop into very well identified, let on your own stars.

And yet there is anything about the harpsichord that will make it hard to ignore. In contrast to the tone of a monster-sized grand piano, harpsichord strings, which are plucked, do not sound grounded. Music performed on the harpsichord takes flight. A fugue on the piano calls for effortful listening, the expectation of apprehending each and every layered melodic. A single frets that one simply cannot really comprehend the counterpoint.

Hearing a harpsichord, you not often can understand the counterpoint except you are the musician or you clamp on a pair of significant-stop electrostatic headphones and flip the quantity up on a recording, which will also give all forms of immersive percussion effects the mechanism tends to make.

But when listening in the audience, you are likely to hear the sum of the pieces, not the specific areas, and that can be liberating. Indeed, a great deal about the harpsichord — as Mahan Esfahani, today’s ideal recognized harpsichordist, marvelously shown in his Disney recital — is curiously liberating. The lightness of contact stimulates flights of extravagant. In his plan note, Esfahani likens the outcome of the harpsichord to that of sketches and etchings by terrific painters.

The temptation to embellish, then, can be as irresistible to a harpsichordist at the keyboard as it is to an artist with a pencil in hand. Esfahani happens to be a decorator of extraordinary fancy, as was his shirt decorated with what appeared like a cluttered workshop full of meters and whatnot. The 1st half of his method contained songs by the 16th century British composer William Byrd and by Bach, or so the plan told us. To a listener seated somewhat near to the phase, the impression was that of eavesdropping on a harpsichordist in one more area, improvising in a modern-day musical language.

Disney Corridor is famed for its vivid acoustics, but at fairly shut proximity particulars could be continue to be tricky to select out in the clattery texture. That left two decisions: go to to modest appears with as significantly focus as one can muster or just daydream, allowing the general performance move in excess of you. You can, it turns out, do both equally.

The trick is to hear intently to, say, a splendidly meandering Byrd pavane without the need of the distracting stress of fussing more than what your ears pass up, mainly because you will pass up significantly. Esfahani is an remarkable virtuoso with a style for terrific velocity.

On the other hand, if you go with the significantly-away stream, the nevertheless-audible harpsichord will not go away you alone beckoning your attention. As soon as you understand there is no center ground, you’re riveted. I was, in any case, and that made Byrd’s “John Occur Kiss Me Now,” a sequence of variants I could have sworn Esfahani was building up on the spot irrespective of understanding them properly, all the far more fetching.

In Bach’s formidable “Partita No. 6,” Esfahani really did make it up, elaborately repeating each and every of its two sections of its rigorous sarabande with harmonically present day-sounding decorations. In the past motion, a gigue, Bach’s unsettled meters can across as downright Stravinsky-an.

There have been vacant seats, and just after intermission I moved a little bit nearer to the fourth row. The variance was considerable, but so was the tunes, Louis Andriessen’s “Overture to Orpheus.” Penned for solo harpsichord in 1982, it served as a beautiful tribute to the fantastic Dutch iconoclast who died this year and who experienced a unique adore for Disney Hall (household of his favorite and most sympathetic orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which presented the recital).

Andriessen’s imaginary overture to an imaginary opera is, alone, a attractive tribute to the harpsichord. In this closer acoustic point of view, solitary notes stood out with percussive brilliance, ringing like gongs of distinct registers. Indonesia and its gamelan orchestras did not appear so considerably absent.

Esfahani returned to the Baroque with seven Scarlatti sonatas. In these, there was no suggestion of improvisation, just myriad harpsichord results that disclosed an sudden selection of tone from his 3-calendar year-previous, two-register instrument crafted in Los Angeles by Curtis Berak. The Berak could only enjoy so loudly, but in exhilarating percussive passages Esfahani stomped his foot as even though that could possibly matter, and it did. The eye can make the ear amazingly suggestible.

As soon as far more, there have been ideas of modernity when Esfahani emphasised rhythmic grooves that in specific passages presaged the minimalist patterning of Steve Reich (whose music Esfahani has recorded).

Esfahani finished his recital with a lacy Purcell encore, “Ground in C Minor.” But he ended his plan take note with the assure that subsequent time he will come again to L.A., it will be for an night of new and modern day tunes. It may well not be all that diverse. Old or new, Esfahani can make just one thankful to abide a thankless instrument. There may even be a daily life lesson in that act.