Press

The Bach Family Tree
Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, Seattle (January 2019)

“Controversial artist” is not one of the images that a professional harpsichordist tends to conjure. It cuts against the grain of countless stereotypes involving restraint, uptightness, dusty academicism. But flipping stereotypes is one way of characterizing the remarkable career of Mahan Esfahani, who makes his Seattle Symphony debut Jan. 11 and 12 as the soloist in a program juxtaposing two generations of the Bach family.”
– Thomas May, The Seattle Times

The Modern Man: Mahan Esfahani
Victoria Concert Hall, Singapore (November 2018)

“The second of the Bach’s set of six keyboard partitas has some of the composer’s more dramatic and showy writing, beginning with a substantial Sinfonia with three sections. Esfahani’s towering musicianship came to the fore in this performance, which would have convinced any sceptic that notwithstanding its limitation in volume and dynamics, the harpsichord can produce an exciting range of sounds that shows off Bach’s genius completely.”
– Mervin Beng, The Straits Times

Poulenc Concert champêtre
Royal Northern Sinfonia, Birthday Gala at The Sage, Gateshead (September 2018)

“After the break out came the Sinfonia’s famous bravura. The harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani was unleashed too. Together they made a delicious feast of Poulenc’s thoughtfully droll Concert champetre, animated with the crispest of colours and attack.”
– Geoff Brown, The Times

“Poulenc’s Concert champetre for harpsichord and orchestra was fronted by Mahan Esfahani, who enjoyed a natural repartee with the RNS in a scintillating performance. Rapturous applause was rewarded with a delightful gem by Purcell.”
– Gavin Engelbrecht, The Northern Echo

Bach Goldberg Variations BWV 988
Musikfest Erzgebirge, Mauersberger-Aula (September 2018)

“The much in demand harpsichord player Mahan Esfahani played Bach’s Goldberg Variations with as much defiance as there was wonderful beauty, and with as much discipline as there was freedom of thought.”
– Manuel Brug, Die Welt

Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
BBC Proms, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall (August 2018)

“A performance by Esfahani would be something to treasure.”
– Anna Picard, The Times

‘The Bach performances were at their best when the soloists were Let free and put to the fore. Several have been mentioned already, but one who made a real mark on this event was Mahan Esfahani. His way of clarifying and making musical sense of the antics of the cadenza from Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 was a genuine highlight of this very long day.”
– Sebastian Scotney, theartsdesh.com

‘The Fifth Brandenburg Concerto was for me the unquestioned highlight of the first concert and indeed of the Bach performances as a whole. Here, it seemed, the soloists, especially Esfahani, took the Lead…and turned what they were doing into a performance in the Living, emphatic sense. The first movement was Lively and breathed, its contours and formal dynamism not only apparent but felt, experienced. Esfahani’s way with the cadenza not only impressed, but reminded us what astounding music this is. It would be foolish to imitate Furtwangler, even on the piano, but his incredible recorded 1950 performance from Salzburg remains the model here. Esfahani proved a worthy successor. The second movement was true Kammermusik: flexible, beautifully balanced, with all the give and take one might have hoped for between harpsichord, flute, and especially violin. Bach’s closing Allegro danced with far greater ease than any of those aforementioned self-conscious ‘Baroque Dance Lessons’ and, naturally, went far deeper. These were not soloists who, again to borrow from Adorno, said Bach yet meant Telemann. Its contrapuntal complexity was embraced; that complexity embraced both performers and audience in return.”
– Mark Berry, Seen and Heard International

Bach 6 Little Preludes, Sonata in C, Toccatas in G 8 C minor and English Suite No. 5
Wigmore Hall (May 2018)

“Esfahani, while delivering exceptionally detailed and nuanced playing, captured [the Preludes] smooth and rounded nature. In contrast, the Sonata in C major, BWV966that followed revealed just how versatile a player he is, and how disparate the demands the piece places on an interpreter who is well versed enough to appreciate them. At times he drove the sound to an extent that scarcely seemed possible on a harpsichord, while at others he languished in phrases to a notable degree. There were also moments when the pace seemed just a fraction slower than might have initially seemed appropriate for the section, but this was also planned to perfection because it introduced a real sense of tension.”
– Sam Smith, musicOMH.com

Gorecki Harpsichord Concerto, Münchener Kammerorchester
Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (January 2018)

“Soloist Mahan Esfahani played the immutably fast-paced yet strangely static solo voice with stunning fluency.” -RitaArgauer, Siiddeutsche Zeitung Byrd, Bach, Cowell, Reich, Saariaho
Menil Collection, Da Camera, Houston (December 2017) “Banishing the harpsichord’s stereotype as the piano’s jingly, stiff ancestor, Esfahani brought vigor, color, expression and atmosphere to his performances.”
– Steven Brown, Texas Classical Review

Bach Goldberg Variations BWV 988
Dialoge Festival, Mozarteum, Salzburg (December 2017)

‘The recital was concluded by a very supple interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations BWV 988, articulated with a breath so personal that it felt like they were being rediscovered.”
– Anaclase.com

Haydn Concerto in D Major
Musica Saeculorum, Kolner Philharmonie (September 2017)

“Esfahani played elegantly, supply and with sensitivity for the music.”
– Markus Schwering, Kolner Philharmonie

D’Anglebert, W.F. Bach, J.S. Bach
Edinburgh International Festival, St Cecilia’s Hall (August 2017)

“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. It was as joyful as it was revelatory- and, it goes without saying, deeply expressive.”
– David Kettle, The Scotsman

Bach Goldberg Variations BWV 988
Music at Paxton, Paxton House (July 2017)

“Esfahani’s Goldbergs were a deeply human experience, brimming with humour and wit, cool objectivity, deep tragedy and startling joy. He managed a near miraculous balance in injecting each piece with its own vivid character, yet shaping their succession into a meaningful journey.”
– David Kettle, The Scotsman

Poulenc Harpsichord Concerto, Hamburger Symphoniker
Laeiszhalle Hamburg (May 2017)

“Esfahani, who has also already performed Steve Reich’s minimalist music on the harpsichord, knows all the finesses and it is not for nothing that his efforts to revive the harpsichord (also in the contemporary dimensions) are supported by his record label… The finale [of the Poulenc] with its rapid runs and passages was performed with extreme virtuosity by Mahan Esfahani, who delivered a piece of “early music” by Henry Purcell as an encore.”
– Helmut Peter, Welt.de

Bach, Rameau, Cowell, Saariaho
Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House (April 2017)

“Esfahani’s playing is engagingly imaginative and captures the freshness of instrumental texture. His artistry, musicianship and ability to communicate make him an ideal champion for the harpsichord’s heritage and potential…American composer Henry Cowell’s neoclassical suite, Set of Four, rediscovered Baroque form and texture with a strikingly original voice, and Esfahani brought out its harmonic density and expressiveness with deeply empathetic understanding …Bach’s Concerto in the Italian Style, BWV 971 explored rich diversity of sounds in the slow movement and the finale romped with buoyant exhilarating momentum.”
– Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald

‘This is one of those heavenly melodic solos that abound in Bach’s works, more often for voice, violin or oboe, and in this instance over a repetitive six-note bass figure. Esfahani gave the two repeated final notes such a variety of timings – here slightly rushed, there Lingering and delayed -that the feel behind the Lovely melody in the right hand was one of wistful hesitancy. It set up the Presto finale beautifully, this being taken at breathless speed with a suspicion of Baroque barrelhouse in the Left hand.”
– Steve Moffatt, Limelight Magazine

Tomkins, Cowell, Kalabis, Reich
92nd Street Y, New York (March 2017)

“Yet even the most disparaging Listener could only have admired Mr. Esfahani’s discipline and close concentration as he moved out of phase with the taped performance in minuscule increments and then, ever so slowly, drifted back in. The ovation was intense and seemingly universal.”
– James R. Oestreich, The New York Times

Coll, De Falla, Stravinsky 8.Scarlatti, Britten Sinfonia
Milton Court, London (February 2017)

“Esfahani was the easily agile soloist in [the Stravinsky] concerto, too, and he also contributed a group of four sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (Italian by birth, Spanish by adoption), which he dispatched with almost nonchalant brilliance.”
– Andrew Clements, The Guardian

‘The Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani is one of a kind, and his event with the Britten Sinfonia under Thomas Gould’s was fruitfully provocative.”
– Michael Church, The Independent

Bach Goldberg Variations BWV 988
Wigmore Hall, London (December 2016)

“It was Esfahani’s curiosity and delight as an interpreter, and a Listener, that shone. Speeds were impulsive: sometimes Esfahani swooshed past a treacherous canon as if trying to break a downhill skiing record. At other times – as if on the peak of the mountain – there were delicious moments of repose where we could stop and see the treetops… Bach’s music is very often mesmerising. It’s very rarely this fun.”
– Neil Fisher, The Times
 
Bach Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Deutsche Grammophon (0289 479 5929 8)

“This is a disc I’ve wanted to hear ever since I first heard Esfahani play the Goldbergs back in 2010. The intensity and virtuosity are every bit as evident here as then, and the instrument sounds beautiful.”
– Martin Cullingford, Gramophone (Editor’s Choice)

“He takes you on an arresting journey through Bach’s Goldberg Variations, where his sophisticated virtuosity, stylistic aplomb and strong personal profile give fresh and meaningful voice to this well-travelled score… In his booklet­ notes, Esfahani plays down his own abilities in the face of past luminaries…don’t believe Esfahani’s modesty for one second. His Goldberg Variations clearly belongs in such company, and in all serious Bach collections.”
– Jed Distler, Gramophone

“Everyone wants to record Bach’s Goldbergs, but not many show as much piercing insight as harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani. The surprises begin at once with a slightly simplified Aria and then some unusual tempi – the canons at the unison, third and octave are slow – and an unevenly tempered tuning for the harpsichord. Esfahani shows amazing rhythmic freedom at times, sometimes teasing us with a long pause before a repeat starts. The final sequence of variations 26 to 29 accumulates brilliant excitement, after which the folk songs of variation 30 are a touching relaxation, and the Aria finally emerges intact. A hugely stimulating account of one of the peaks of western music.”
– Nicholas Kenyon, The Observer

“Given such constraints from the composer, one might assume Little is left but to play the notes. Mahan Esfahani…proves otherwise. His contributions are the extraordinary range and delicacy of touch and his scrupulous attention to matching phrasing… His touch draws a remarkable variety of tone, density and resonance from his instrument.” – George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine (Editor’s Choice) “Straight to the top of the chart, Mahan Esfahani’s recording of this perennial favourite is unmissable.”
– BBC Music Magazine

“Esfahani excels in the Mount Everest of harpsichord music… There is something uniquely magical in the way Esfahani eases one into this most thrilling and sacred of musical journeys by first presenting the near-naked. That is, leaving most of the customary ornaments to the repeats – and with that gentle extra forward momentum gained by stylishly arpeggiating bass and treble, before opening up delicate vistas of unalloyed joy un the first variation and thus setting the tone of things to come.”
– Limelight Magazine

“The best Bach recordings tend to be the ones in which it is completely irrelevant whether or not the performance conforms to historical practice. That is the case with this recording of the Goldberg Variations, played on harpsichord by Mahan Esfahani. Who cares if it’s historically informed or not when it’s as convincing as this? The Goldberg Variations are the Holy Grail for all keyboard players: an incredibly beautiful aria, thirty variations, rounded off by the same aria. Overwhelmed by Bach, some musicians turn this into a heavy and serious task. Esfahani, however, turns it into one big party. Each variation is a world in itself, as if Esfahani is telling us a short story each time… He makes the harpsichord sing and achieves endless variation in the sound. Is this the ultimate recording? Not when it’s down to Esfahani. He aims to make more, and expects to discover new stories in each work throughout his Life.”
– Sandra Kooke, Trouw

“Esfahani’s recording of the Goldberg Variations must be one of the best of that widely recorded work. He elicits a beautiful silvery tone from the harpsichord. His virtuosity is astonishing in the more rapid passages. His tempi are sensible – not too slow in slow sections nor exaggeratedly fast in the quicker sections… His rhythmic control is excellent. In all respects, his playing fully reveals the greatness of this masterpiece of Bach.”
– Richard Gate, Fine Music Magazine

“Every 10 years or so a recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations arrives that significantly changes the way you hear the piece. So it is with Mahan Esfahani, the 32-year-old Iranian harpsichordist whose interpretation was just released on the Deutsche Grammophon label. It’s a high-personality performance – anything but Glenn Gould’s later, detached, structure-minded recording but with high-spirited expressive discoveries in nearly every phrase. It’s bound to be controversial. Rarely have a harpsichordist’s two hands had such minds of their own, periodically threatening to go their separate ways, creating much inner tension. Add to that Esfahani’s brilliant finger work and flexible ternpos, and you have a performance that won’t let go of your ears, even as you’re disagreeing with it.”
– David Patrick Stearns, Philly.com

Dutilleux Les citations, Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Ludovic Morlot
CD SSM1012 (September 2016)

‘This timbrally supple performance, graphically recorded, springs into Life as Mahan Esfahani’s Louche harpsichord enters furtively and cuts across the prevailing ensemble flow with gestures that outline stolid Baroque grandeur and notes that collapse architecture from the inside.”
– Philip Clark, Gramophone

Bull, Kalabis, d’Anglebert, Saariaho, Kidane, Scarlatti
Wigmore Hall, London (July 2016)

“John Bull’s Chromatic (Queen Elizabeth’s) Pavan and Galliard contrasted interiority and brilliance, while the Bull Fantasia at the end of the set Lived up to its name, Esfahani vividly conveying its improvisatory qualities. In between we were thrust into the world of communist Czechoslovakia, courtesy of Viktor Kalabis’s three Aquarelles… He delighted in their range-from the sparest of textures to sheer motoric brilliance – and a sly humour too.

At the keyboard, he led us from the glories of d’Anglebert, which included a sumptuous reading of the Passacaille d’Armide, to the unflinching Tarocco of Danish modernist Axel Borup-J0rgensen… Kaija Saariaho’s Jardin Secret// for harpsichord and tape, on the other hand, was a deliciously sinister sonic adventure.

The Six Etudes of 30-year-old Daniel Kidane brought us right up to the present, offering textures of great finesse and shards of Ligetian playfulness (even adding an intentionally jarring hotel reception bell to the sixth). We ended with Scarlatti and here too Esfahani offered something new, unveiling a couple of recently discovered sonatas. He eschewed the obvious crowd-pleasers, instead choosing sonatas such as the G major, Kk260, with its zany harmonies. As an encore came Richard Rodney Bennett’s Little Elegy, borrowed from the piano and given with great tenderness.”
– Harriet Smith, Financial Times

Scarlatti, Kuhnau, Froberger
Schloßkonzerte Bad Krozingen (May 2016)

When Esfahani plays he never holds back, always going all out. In Alessandro Scarlatti’s variations on the “La Follia” he risked everything, taking the tempo to its limits so that the simultaneousness of his hands threatened to waver. But it was this expressivity that made his playing so exciting and attractive. In Johann Kuhnau’s “Biblische Historie” based on “Saul who was cured by David’s music” he created fantastic characterisations. Saul’s rage gushed out in a passionate fugue, the healing sound of David’s harp unfolded its effect in intensely rubato consecutive thirds: this was really illustrative music. There was a Dionysian spell over this programme, which Esfahani concluded with six sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, which delight in experimenting in the sound world (e.g. in the long suspended notes) and in the modulations. Esfahani celebrated all of this in often bold tempi. There was huge applause at the end – apparently there was nobody from Cologne in the audience.
– Alexander Dick, Badische Zeitung

Recital with Thomas Hobbs (tenor)
London Festival of Baroque Music, St John’s, Smith Square, London (May 2016)

Esfahani, if you don’t know him already, approaches concerts with an impromptu flourish and some in-built randomness: not in his virtuosic playing but in the rest of the proceedings. It keeps you alert, which is not always true of an evening of harpsichord music. From a rich offering of the largely unfamiliar, the Sonata II, “Of Saul, Whom David Cured by Means of Music” (1700) by Johann Kuhnau stood out: flamboyant, expressive and ingenious.
– Fiona Maddocks, The Observer

Farnaby, Bach, Bartók et al
Wimbledon International Music Festival, London (November 2015)

No one has done more to popularise [the harpsichord] as a concert instrument in the present day than Iranian-American virtuoso Mahan Esfahani. He began his recital at the Wimbledon International Music Festival with three pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, in which the infectious rhythms of the delightfully named Nobodyes Gigge by Richard Farnaby were adroitly dispatched. Each movement of JS Bach’s magnificent E minor Partita, the finest of the set, was characterised appropriately – the flamboyant Toccata, the fluent Allemande, the poignant Sarabande – while the unsettled, even frenzied quality of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel’s Sonata in G was stylishly projected. There were also sparky miniatures by Bartók and Martinu, and death-defying cross-hand leaps in a Scarlatti encore, all flawlessly executed.
– Barry Millington, Evening Standard

Górecki Harpsichord Concerto, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Wit
Barbican Centre, London (October 2015)

The programme’s most consistently impressive item was the relatively brief Harpsichord Concerto, whose neo-classical motor rhythms were brilliantly articulated by soloist.
George Hall, The GuardianAn excellent performance, though, from the ever-versatile Mahan Esfahani, his technique clearly unchallenged by the music, which he presented with a lot of class.
– Gavin Dixon, theartsdesk.com

Esfahani rendered this engaging piece with suitably deadpan elegance.
– Richard Whitehouse, classicalsource.com

In almost complete contrast, Gorecki’s miniature Harpsichord Concerto of 1980 was played with dizzying aplomb by Mahan Esfahani, accompanied by a chamber-sized string ensemble. Often seen as a light, skittish, work, the concerto has a darker aspect to its nine-minute duration. Esfahani, who recorded the work last year, has detected Gorecki’s feelings of frustration under Communism in the first movement’s tug between the harpsichord’s chordal shifts and the dead hand of the strings’ repeated rhythm. Even the last movement’s manic gaiety seems to suggest a Schnittke-like sarcasm.
– John-Pierre Joyce, musicomh.com

Time Present and Time Past
Deutsche Grammophon (0289 479 4481 2 CD DDD AH)

If you buy only one record of harpsichord music in your life — and that’s a decision I would have some sympathy with – buy this sensational album. The 30-year-old Iranian-American Mahan Esfahani has been making waves among connoisseurs for several years. Now he emerges as a superstar whose musicianship, imagination, virtuosity, cultural breadth and charisma far transcends the ivory tower in which the harpsichord has traditionally been placed.
– Richard Morrison, The Times

A model recording for any instrument, not just the harpsichord. Concertos? Three, one by Gorecki, one by Geminiani, another by J.S. Bach, all weightily played by the Concerto Köln. Florid, stylish solo works? Two, both — like the Geminiani — based on the ancient “La Folia” theme, by Alessandro Scarlatti and C.P.E. Bach. Mesmerizing novelties? Of course: Steve Reich’s “Piano Phase,” rearranged and overdubbed for single harpsichord. Exhaustingly brilliant.
– David Allen, The New York Times

Lest we should think that the harpsichord exists merely to execute music of olden times, the brilliant young Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani here intersperses his Scarlatti and Bach with Henryk Górecki’s Harpsichord Concerto of 1980 and a harpsichord version of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase of 1967, originally conceived for two pianos…Esfahani at his vibrant and expressive best.
– Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph

Mahan Esfahani’s new CD – the first harpsichord recital on the DG label in three decades – is, in a way, a concept album. Equating minimalism and baroque music is not new, but Esfahani, always a sparky and searching player, juxtaposes them here so as to create an unusually direct link. Three of the works from Time Past – by Alessandro Scarlatti, CPE Bach and Geminiani – are obsessive variations on the tiny sequence La Follia, and he and the robust yet elegant players of Concerto Köln end with Bach’s Concerto in D minor. In between comes Time Present, or at least Time Recent. Gorecki’s 1980 Harpsichord Concerto is initially heavy-going, with an oppressive first movement relaxing into something approaching joy in the second. More beguiling is Esfahani’s two-track recording of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase, in which the harpsichord creates new textures and effects, including moments when the music seems to leap out in 3D.
– Erica Jeal, The Guardian

CPE Bach’s quirkily inventive La folia Variations, where Esfahani’s subtle overlapping legato fingerwork and intuitive grasp of the composer’s mood-swings are deeply impressive.   
– Jed Distler, Gramophone

The bewildering phase shifts in Steve Reich’s Piano Phase are simply spectacular. Esfahani performs them by playing together with a tape recording of himself. A common thread in the baroque works is La Follia, an often used ostinato theme, spinning circles in endless variations through the same chord scheme. However, the CD is first and foremost a special one because of Esfahani’s superior musicianship. His sparkling playing overcomes the image that is still sometimes attached to the harpsichord: that of a monotonous one-dimensional instrument.
– Frits van der Waa, de Volkskrant

Unifying them even more, though, is the bullish spirit of Esfahani’s playing: this is intense, fiery, explosive musicianship, delivered with ferocious conviction, virtuoso flair and never a hint of academic meekness. Concerto Köln match his galvanising drive with sounds that are raw, lean and impassioned, whether in Bach’s brooding D minor concerto or the anarchic, obsessive and thoroughly startling Górecki. It’s an audacious and visionary project…Esfahani more than proves the versatility and colourful nature of the harpsichord….At this rate he’ll simply leave others standing – or, perhaps, combing through the embers.
– Jessica Duchen, Sinfini Music

Poulenc Concert champêtre, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Center (May 2015)

The dashing soloist, playing a lovely-sounding, two-manual harpsichord, was the Iranian-born, British harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, substituting for Kristian Bezuidenhout, who had withdrawn for health reasons. He tossed off the animated sprays of notes with deft rhythmic attack and seemingly infallible fingers, setting the delicate timbres of his instrument in clear relief against the surrounding accompaniment. Esfahani follow[ed] the concerto with a solo encore: Rameau’s “Gavotte and Variations,” which gave his virtuosic mettle full rein.
– John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

J.S. Bach Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 1)
Snape Maltings (August 2014)

Mahan Esfahani’s performance of the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier was even more riveting. For the gentle harpsichord to fill this venue is already an awesome task; the lighting was dropped almost to darkness, and Esfahani created a balance of tensions that shifted from calm to highly wrought, the singing lines emerging with consummate clarity. Serene, cerebral, playful, knotty, soulful, sometimes unashamedly virtuosic – Bach embraced everything. And by way of underlining the beautiful physics of it all – a prelude and fugue in each of the 12 keys rising semi-tone by semitone – Esfahani followed the final fugue in B minor with a return to the beginning, the now doubly ethereal Prelude No 1 in C major completing the circle. In a crazy world, something was made perfect. The message to take home, suggested Esfahani by way of quelling the applause, was that Bach is a way of life.
– Rian Evans, The Guardian

Couperin, CPE Bach, Takemitsu, et al.
Wigmore Hall (July 2014)

He’s a brilliant player — two days after this recital I’m still tingling over his forensic attack and silk-smooth arpeggios — but he also knows about friendly presentation… Dashingly eloquent, dizzyingly skilled, Esfahani makes the harpsichord seem an instrument reborn.
– Geoff Brown, The Times

We were flung into dramatic scenarios, agitated disputes, ardent sermons, all brought to vivid life through the apparently dry, tinkly sound of a harpsichord…his passionate engagement with the music was totally captivating.
– Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph

This was a splendid recital.
– Mark Berry, Seen and Heard International

Recital at Aldeburgh Music Festival
Aldeburgh Parish Church (June 2014)

There was more virtuosity again at Aldeburgh’s parish church, where the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani embraced music from early 17th-century Bull and Gibbons to Bartók and Ligeti. In the latter’s Continuum, seeing the effort expended was like watching someone pushing himself to the limit on a weight-machine in a gym, with an added aesthetic agenda. Esfahani’s disarming ability to talk his listeners through the before-and-after of the experience matched his extraordinary technique.
– Rian Evans, The Guardian

And, at Aldeburgh Parish Church in the afternoon, the Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani gave a revelatory recital in which, in each half, the quiet focus of pieces by John Bull and Orlando Gibbons intensified what was to come: extraordinary performances of extraordinary works by Martinů, Bartók (Three Dances in Bulgarian rhythm), and Ligeti — his Passacaglia ungharese and a mechanistic Continuum which made Esfahani grimace in pain and his audience in unmitigated pleasure.
– Hilary Finch, The Times

Byrd, Bach & Ligeti, Wigmore Hall LIVE
Wigmore Hall Live – WHLive0066 (April 2014)

With an instinctive sense of rhythm and a gift for interpretation, Esfahani has firmly established himself as one of today’s most thrilling harpsichordists.
– Martin Cullingford, Gramophone (Editor’s Choice)

Byrd’s Walsingham variations are enlivened by Esfahani’s animated pacing, incisive fingerwork and effortless distinction between legato and detached phrasings… Highly recommended.
– Jed Distler, Gramophone

Esfahani marches and dances, sings, swaggers and prays, with a sensitive balance of delicacy and vigour. He brings intelligence and grace to the Ricercars and a canon from Bach’s Musical Offering, their contrapuntal lines spun with limpid clarity. But perhaps most striking are the dazzling realizations of three harpsichord pieces by György Ligeti. These eclectic soundscapes are splashed with the exotic colours of Hungarian folk music and the acidulous tunings of mean-tone temperament; they pulsate with the syncopations of jazz or the rhythmic complexities of late 14th-century ars subtilior, and they hypnotise with the ever-turning ground basses of Baroque laments or the repeating chord patterns of rock and pop. Esfahani communicates all this, and more, with giddying technique and a perceptive understanding of Ligeti’s mongrel idiom. His two harpsichords glimmer radiantly in the Wigmore’s fine acoustic.
– Kate Bolton, BBC Music Magazine (Editor’s Choice)

He is a simply superb player. His technique is beyond criticism and his inherent musicianship goes far deeper than mere surface understanding… It is difficult not to warm to such a musician, and when one hears his performances of these Byrd pieces – so musical, so essentially re-creative in the best sense, with each note and phrase fully part of the piece itself – one can only applaud the young man’s artistry. His sensitivity is of the highest, and the brilliance of his playing – especially in the Galliard to the Fifte Pavian and the Marche Before the Battell – is breathtaking. Both the Fantasia (No. 52 of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book) and the concluding piece in this selection, Walsingham, demonstrate the finest harpsichord playing I have ever heard, so much so that on hearing them at first, I was compelled to repeat the experience several times. Esfahani’s part-playing in the three J.S. Bach pieces, especially the Ricercar a 6, is positively enviable, a combination of clarity and expressivity of the subtlest kind, which makes this CD an urgent acquisition for lovers of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music. This music is more than interesting, and no composer could ask for more committed or enthralling accounts than these… By any standards, this is a recording of great distinction.
– Robert Matthew-Walker, International Record Review

Recital at Zürich Tonhalle
Zürich, March 2014

Esfahani gave a really exciting interpretation of CPE Bach’s Wurttemburg Sonata No.2, where he was really in his element. He attractively peeled out the fickle nature of the first movement, cultivated the sensitive style of the Adagio and realised the effervescent virtuosity of the third movement… His interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Partita No.2 in c minor again illuminated the personality of the musician.
– Thomas Schacher, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

CPE Bach, Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Fortepiano, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, February 2014

The graceful phrases passed back and forth between soloists Mahan Esfahani and Danny Driver were lovingly shaped, and the contrast between the harpsichord’s silvery tinkle and the fortepiano’s drawing-room intimacy was a delight.
– Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph

CPE Bach, Württemberg Sonatas
Hyperion CDA67995, January 2014

This, his first solo disc, provides a particularly welcome introduction onto the world stage for an artist matching, in ‘expression’, CPE Bach himself.
– George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine (‘Recording of the Month’ – *****)

The elusive fusion of thematic intricacy, ‘Baroque’ rhetoric and ‘proto-Classical’ Sturm und Drang offered by the instrument are caught perfectly by Esfahani’s supple touch and disarming sense of rhetorical pacing.
– David Vickers, Gramophone

In this winning performance by the young American-Iranian harpsichordist, one is taken aback by the avant-garde effects and abrupt changes of tempo and mood. The sound of his instrument — a reproduction based on models by the Berlin court harpsichord-maker Michael Mietke (d 1719) — enjoys a wide-ranging spectrum of timbres in Esfahani’s dexterous hands, but it is the verve of his allegros and the affecting pathos of his slow movements that mark him out as a special interpreter of this fascinating composer’s music in his tercentenary year.
– Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times

Esfahani’s performances wonderfully convey the sense of the younger Bach flexing his muscles in the new musical language that he was involved in creating. The instrument Esfahani plays them on, a modern copy of a harpsichord from the beginning of the 18th century, and the way it is tuned, seem to emphasise the transitional feel of the music, too; there’s an almost fortepiano-like solidity to the sound, with crisp definition in both the high and low registers that matches its expressive ambitions perfectly.
– Andrew Clements, The Guardian

As for his playing, in the best sense it is anything but unpredictable: sure-minded and vividly realized, it holds the attention with ease and is a pleasure to hear. This is an excellent recording and it can be thoroughly recommended. The harpsichord may never quite be mainstream material, but you sense that, if it were ever to get there, Esfahani might just be the man to make it happen.
– Peter Lynan, International Record Review

The best of [CPE Bach’s] music reflects his personal sophistication, with no shortage of creative genius to turn this wide cultural awareness into excellent pieces that deserve a hearing. Such as the six Württemberg Sonatas on this new Hyperion album, featuring the truly exceptional, London based Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani. All six are lively and exuberant, full of youthful joie de vivre, and sometimes stunning technical effects, all of which are brought out by Esfahani’s light touch. The playing here is miles away from the clangorous, congested sound once so typical of harpsichord recitals, which caused the instrument to be denounced by Sir Thomas Beecham as like listening to ‘copulating skeletons’. Hopefully, we will get more new recordings from Esfahani. I’d love to hear him in some of Emanuel’s many keyboard concertos.
– David Mellor, The Mail on Sunday

Mahan Esfahani here plays six fine early sonatas, delivered with glitter and glamour on the harpsichord. His intelligence, flair and freshness make the music leap off the page into powerful life. There’s a conviction here that demands recognition of the rebel Bach’s still underrated genius.
– Jessica Duchen, Sinfini Music

His sense of musical freedom sets him apart from some of the more dogmatic players of previous generations. He allows the music plenty of room to breathe and lets the listener appreciate the often rhetorical or humorous nature of these sonatas. The E Flat Major is a case in point: the first movement’s question and answer elements are well delineated while the superbly lyrical second movement unfolds with admirable serenity… This fresh and insightful recording is a very welcome offering in this 300th anniversary year of CPE’s birth. More please.
– Tom Way, Limelight

Bach The Musical Offering, RNCM Chamber Music Festival
Manchester Cathedral, January 2014

The high point of the concerts I attended came the next evening in that same chilly space: a performance by the Academy of Ancient Music of JS’s The Musical Offering, and particularly its central six-part ricercar, played on the harpsichord by Mahan Esfahani. The audience could not have been more attentive. The musical thought was as loftily sustained as the building itself. I had a sudden feeling of the sublime.
– Paul Driver, The Sunday Times

Handel Concert, Academy of Ancient Music
Kölner Philharmonie, September 2013

As organist and harpsichordist, [Esfahani] gave a flawless performance of music by Handel with the Academy of Ancient Music at the Kölner Philharmonie – highly virtuosic improvisations and joyously delivered with some breakneck speeds.
– Kölner Stadtanzeiger

Byrd, Bach and Ligeti Recital
Wigmore Hall (May 2013)

With 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 2011 was 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…
Michael Church, International Piano Magazine

Recital at Bath Bachfest
Guildhall, Bath, (February 2013)

Such virtuosity and disarming presentation suggests that Esfahani could inspire a whole new appreciation of the instrument.
– Rian Evans, The Guardian

The Art of Fugue (Bach Arr. Esfahani), Academy of Ancient Music
Cadogan Hall, London (July 2012)
Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani’s arrangement of The Art of Fugue, premiered by Esfanahi and members of the Academy of Ancient Music, made Bach’s counterpoint glisten so brightly you could imagine – faint hope – you could comprehend its intricate workings.
– Fiona Maddocks, The Observer

Oxford Philomusica Summer Baroque
Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford (July 2012)

Aged only twenty eight, of Iranian origin, Esfahani has to be regarded as one of the foremost musicians of his generation and as one of the leading harpsichordists since the revival of that instrument in the twentieth century.
– British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Recital at Paxton House
Berwick-upon-Tweed (July 2012)

It would be hard not to be impressed by Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani . . . In a beautifully chosen programme of Gibbons, d’Anglebert, Couperin, Ciaja and Bach, Esfahani’s touch was always insightful and, above all, visceral.
– Kate Molleson, The Guardian

Recital at the Frick Collection, New York City
(April 2012)

Mr. Esfahani offered an imaginative rendition of Rameau’s Gavotte and Variations, played with soulful flair and a sense of spontaneity…a colorful performance of William Croft’s Ground in C minor…Mr. Esfahani’s confident, characterful playing and tasteful ornamentation…Mr. Esfahani’s excellent performance of five Scarlatti sonatas, beginning with an elegant rendition of the Sonata in F minor (K. 462). Mr. Esfahani demonstrated impressive technique during the Sonata in G (K. 124) and again during the rapid-fire Sonata in D minor (K. 141).
– Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times

Recital at the Cleveland Museum of Art
(April 2012)

Esfahani established his credentials as a thoughtful, elegant player in four very different works by William Byrd…Esfahani found sense and structure everywhere while dazzling us with his digital prowess. J.S. Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in g was sheerly delightful under Esfahani’s fingers…Those who had already digested Esfahani’s witty and evocative program notes probably tried to follow along with his game of assigning narratives to each of the pieces. Expressive rubatos, wild runs and arpeggios and sudden accelerandos only served to make their imagined stories more vivid. You could probably listen to these pieces all day without risking boredom…Esfahani is a quiet figure at the keyboard, but one who draws you powerfully into his own, personal intensity. His facial expressions are as arresting as his playing. The large audience responded more enthusiastically than I can ever remember for a harpsichord recital and Esfahani responded with a highly ornate, aria-like encore by Cimarosa. He needs to be invited back soon
– Daniel Hathaway, Cleveland Classical

J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations, Halifax Philharmonic Club
(December 2011)

The ideal interpreter of Bach’s astonishing genius…The harpsichord as an interpretative instrument never sounded so expressive. Mahan Esfahani’s wondrous technique, musicality and intensity of concentration made for an enthralling evening.
– Julia Anderson, Halifax Courier

York Early Music Festival
(July 2011)
– Mahan Esfahani had earlier switched effortlessly between harpsichord and the more intimate virginals in toccatas, toyes and fancies from Elizabeth and Jacobean England. Always one to live dangerously, he took on some of the toughest pieces, notably Byrd’s Walsingham variations, and won the day with dazzling virtuosity. A maestro already, and still only 27.
– Martin Dreyer, York Press

Wigmore Hall recital with James Bowman
May 2011

Mahan Esfahani, who is quickly establishing himself as the leading harpsichordist of his generation’, ‘Esfahani is physically involved with his instrument, delighting in the sounds of its mechanism; rising from his seat as if his whole body is contributing to the production of sound, he positively foregrounds the instrument’s mechanism. Never does technique, albeit astonishing, outshine the music: an astounding array of tones and shades was matched by an attention to the expressivity of the dense counterpoint, and a concern to convey the power of harmonic tension and release.’
– Opera Today

Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall
York University

The work has a sarabande theme which frames 30 variations. They range from gentle doodles to lightning flashes. Esfahani was equal to them all. He varied the registrations on his two-manual instrument. But extra colours never clouded the clarity of the voices, even in Variation 10’s fugue. He maintained this transparency in the whirlwind of Variation 12. His approach to the slower movements was extremely elastic, yet always persuasive, making the melancholy modulations of Variation 25 sound positively modern. Elsewhere, his fingerwork was dazzling, throwing off the impossibly speedy Variation 20 almost nonchalantly and making a startling toccata of Variation 29. This man has special powers. Bist Du Bei Mir (Stay By Me) as an encore was in keeping with the near-religious atmosphere he conjured. For this was nothing short of an act of worship.
– The Press, February 2011

J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations
Old Town House of Haddington

The young harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, in the Old Town House of Haddington, gave a wonderfully personal performance of the Goldberg Variations; sound and physicality both reflective of an individual emotional path taken through this most refined of works.
– Gramophone Magazine, November 2010

York Early Music Festival
July 2010

The Friday YEMF lunchtime recital (Unitarian Chapel) hosted a wide range of 17th and 18th-century harpsichord music by the excellent Mahan Esfahani. The programme opened with a Froberger toccata with dazzling keyboard skills, resulting in a polished and very animated performance. Indeed, as the Couperin confirmed, Mahan Esfahani is a consummate performer, playing with vitality, drive and authority… The opening of the Bach English Suite No.2 was like stepping into a musical Rolls Royce, the music sublime, the playing simply imperious.
– The Press

Wigmore Hall recital
April 2010

..once seated at the keyboard, he becomes amazingly animated, his face registering every quiver of emotion, his right knee flying up when things get really animated…As for Esfahani’s playing, it makes maximum use of the harpsichord’s main expressive resources…the opening Adagio from Handel’s F major Suite, an impassioned song over a pacing left hand, took on a wonderful elastic quality. When the line arched upwards, the beat seemed momentarily pulled back; when it tumbled down, it urged forward, but never in a way that seemed mechanical. This was music, not the aural equivalent of a switchback.
– The Telegraph


Bloomberg News, 2012

“Bach’s Mysterious Fugues Get New Persian Remix at the Proms.” Read here.