Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

Reviewed on Fri 14 Oct, 2016

The sense of contrapuntal invention is adroitly realised, Esfahani’s virtuosity never flashy, always at the service of the music.

Mahan Esfahani brings a freshness and vitality to the oft-recorded Goldberg Variations that surprise and delight in equal measure. On a modern, closely-miked Huw Sanders harpsichord (modelled on a 1710 double-manual instrument by Johann Heinrich Harrass) crisp precision and warmly resonant sound are allied to athletic technique, an often invigorating choice of tempos and a decidedly muscular poetic bent for ravishing detail and choice ornamentation. The sense of contrapuntal invention is adroitly realised, Esfahani’s virtuosity never flashy, always at the service of the music. With meticulous observance of all repeats, this is also a performance distinguished by a fleetness of expression – brought to boiling point in Variations 26-29 – that, even so, never loses sight of the slower movement’s somniferous qualities. The penultimate Quodlibet and final iteration of the Aria da capo deftly return the work to its slumber-inducing intentions to hypnotic effect. A scintillating introduction for newcomers to the Goldbergs, and an essential release for Bach aficionados.
–Michael Quinn