The ideal interpreter of Bach’s astonishing genius

Mahan Esfahani'Photo: Marco Borggreve
Mahan Esfahani'Photo: Marco Borggreve

Halifax Philharmonic Club

Mahan Esfahani plays The Goldberg Variations

Enthralling: Mahan Esfahani

Enthralling: Mahan Esfahani

Square Chapel, Halifax

The Goldberg Variations were written in 1723 for court harpsichordist Goldberg to play so as to relax and divert the insomniac Russian Ambassador at the court of Elector of Saxony in Leipzig where Bach was working at the time.

Bach was paid a hundred louis d’or in a golden goblet for his pains and left the world a work of astonishing musical invention and originality.

The young Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani was its ideal interpreter.

Unassuming and studious of mien, his instrument lit only by a table lamp in the darkened auditorium, he played the dour, restrained, economically ornamented theme impassively, sitting upright on a straight-backed chair. Warming to his theme, he soon became totally absorbed in this inspired musical journey to the most unexpected of places.

The theme was turned inside out, upside down, majored, minored, compressed, extended, teased, elaborated, you name it. There were mickey-taking pastiches of baroque musical conventions, witty jokes embellished with filigree decoration and virtuoso trilling or buzzing depending on the register. Courtly dances, by turns stately, vivacious, even frenetic contrasted with moments of contemplative calm and wistful reflection. And there were weird, almost atonal explorations into the unknown that sounded of no period at all.

The harpsichord as an interpretative instrument never sounded so expressive. Mahan Esfahan’s wondrous technique, musicality and intensity of concentration made for an enthralling evening.

Julia Anderson