international - Mahan Esfahani


international - Mahan Esfahani
July/August 2013
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it always have to be like this, one wonders wearily as yet
another pianist rushes tight-lipped to the keyboard. That was
how Mahan Esfahani began his harpsichord recital at the
rVigmore, but it wasn't long before he was back on his feet and
making us laugh - and think. Vith 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 2011was 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, theatrically demanding a glass of water to cool down
after the fastest beFore announcing that, as he'd iust been notified
of his right to remain in Britain, he would celebrate by playing
Purcell encore.
Meanwhile, the merry-go-round keeps turning, with Yundi
- now shorn oF his patronymic Li - re-launching himself yet
again. Knocked off his perch at Deutsche Grammophon (DG)
by the arrival of Lang Lang, he was picked up and relaunched as
a Chopinist by EMI, and when that failed he gave up and went
back to China. Now, DG has reinstated him, but this time as a
Beethovenist, and - mirabile dictu - he's actually better with
Beethoven than he is with Chopin. After delivering two Chopin
Nocturnes as a rather mediocre aperitif, he played the three
best-known Beethoven sonatas and revealed himself to be as
as could be desired. The passagework in his
'Appassionata'was brilliant, and its architecture emerged with great
clarity; the slow movement may not have given much sense of the
numinous, but the 6nale was exemplarily clean, as was the finale
oF the 'Moonlightl The only defect in this recital was a milking For
disciplined and focused
effect of the recitatives in the'Pathetiquel
Two veterans disappointed, most notably Joanna MacGregor
oF Bach's 'Goldberg' Suite in John Eliot
Gardiner's Bach Marathon at the Royal Albert Hall. Employing
a sound which failed to carry, she seemed to have miscalculated
what was needed for this acoustically problematic space, and her
interpretations lacked muscle and vibrancy' Murray Perahia's
Barbican concert opened with typically translucent accounts
of a Haydn sonata and Bach's Fourth French Suite, but he
blew things by infusing Beethoven's'Les Adieux'with a pervading
angst which ran perversely counter to that work's serene
nobility. He followed it with an aggressively charmless account of
Schubert's Moments musicaux, and with a desperately hurried (and
technically uncertain) Chopin Scherzo.'Was he oFcolour, or just
with her performance
trying to find 'new' things to say about these familiar works? If the
latter, it was at the expense ofthe poetry. Let's hope he rediscovers
his golden touch.
Three young pianists made stronger running. Igor Levit, whom
the BBC has singled out as one of its New Generation Artists,
kicked offwith some rare programme music by Bach followed by
an electrifuing account of Beethoven's Op 109 Sonata, in which
the third-movement theme was lovingly deconstructed before
being reassembled in transfigured form. Levit's plan to segue
was scuppered by premature applause, and after the final work Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata - he himself seemed to be disconcerted
by the power of his own performance; his encore - Liszt's
'Liebestod'arrangement - was poetic in the extreme.
Charles Owen's contribution to the Kings Place'Bach Unwrapped'
series was a reminder of this British pianist's pre-eminence as an
interpreter of the Partitas, while Stefan Ciric delivered a scintillating
programme of Brahms, Chopin, Schumann and Granados. This
Serbian pianist has such a formidable technique that the listener is
thereby liberated to appreciate the refinement of his artistry; his easy
platform manner makes his commentaries an additional pleasure.
But the pianist I most enjoy listening to talk - as well as play - is
Paul Roberts, whose lecture-concert on Ravel's Miroirs in the 'lt's
All About Piano'festival illusuated the insights to be derived from
his brilliant new book. Refections: tbe Piano Music of Maurice Rauel
(Amadeus Press) is both a commentary on the nature and literary
origins of Ravel's piano masterpieces and, at the same time, an implicit
biography; its discussion of the technical challenges and the aesthetic
decisions required of those who play this music - pearls hard-won over
a lifetime - will make it obligatory reading for every young virtuoso.