Music review: Mahan Esfahani

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Edinburgh International Festival: In his post-concert, pre-encore address to the audience, Iranian/American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani revealed how early in life he dreamt of travelling to see the 1769 Taskin harpsichord in Edinburgh’s St Cecilia’s Hall.

St Cecilia’s Hall

*****

Now here he was playing it, in what he described as the crowning achievement of his career to date. That might have been festival-flattering hyperbole, but the sturdy instrument made a dazzling counterpoint to Esfahani’s playing, crisp, rich, almost like a piano at times, with a huge flexibility to its sounds – all of which Esfahani used to full effect.

He seems to be on a mission to demonstrate the expressiveness of his instrument – and judging by his remarkably fluid, fresh, almost improvisatory playing and rhythmic suppleness, he’s pretty much succeeded. Three short pieces by d’Anglebert, harpsichordist to Louis XIV, were almost top-heavy in their elaborate decoration, dispatched with utter conviction. A Sonata in E flat by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, JS’s eldest son, was a glorious oddity of early Classicism, with a breathlessly and shamelessly virtuosic finale that Esfahani relished.

To end came JS Bach’s Overture in B minor, each movement alive with dance rhythms and bristling with character. It was as joyful as it was revelatory – and, it goes without saying, deeply expressive.