Mahan Esfahani: Byrd, Bach, Ligeti
A critic reviewing Mahan Esfahani’s 2013 Wigmore Hall recital of short pieces by Byrd, Bach and Ligeti (from which this disc derives) felt that the programme would have been more effectively contrasted had the three Ligeti works been interspersed among the others, rather than presented in chronological sequence. Oddly enough, I received this release as randomly numbered lossless digital files and initially wrote my review assuming that that this seemingly ‘mixed and matched’ sequence was the actual running order, and a very inspired one at that.
In fact, reordering strengthens the overall impact of Esfahani’s flexible, articulate and deeply musical interpretations. Try putting Ligeti’s austere, ceremonial Passacaglia ungherese before the three-part Ricercar from Bach’s Musical Offering. Similarly, the rhythmic energy of Byrd’s D minor Fantasia easily slips into the jagged disquiet of Ligeti’s Hungarian Rock, which, in turn, provides a provocative bridge into the C minor Galliard. While many performances of Ligeti’s Continuum barrel their way through the relentless dissonant tremolos, Esfahani’s steady rhythm conveys a sense of air between the notes and allows the pitches to register more fully than usual. Also note how Esfahani points up the quirky cross-rhythmic interplay and tart accidentals in Byrd’s Fantasia in A minor.
The wild mood contrasts and decorative writing in Byrd’s John come kiss me now emerge with more vehemence and inner drama compared to Davitt Moroney’s relatively strait-laced recording (Hyperion). And Byrd’s Walsingham variations are enlivened by Esfahani’s animated pacing (he’s livelier than Sophie Yates on Chandos and Elizabeth Farr on Naxos), incisive fingerwork and effortless distinction between legato and detached phrasings. The full-bodied engineering conveys both instrument and venue in a natural and attractive ambient blend. Highly recommended in whatever running order you choose.