It’s summer, and harpsichord concerts have slowed down in New York City, which gives me a chance to look back at last season and mention an ambitious new series.
Italian Academy, May 17, 2018
Mahan Esfahani, who performed the Goldberg Variations in New York City in the fall (see my earlier post), returned on May 1 for a solo recital in Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall. The program was a diverse one of Frescobaldi, Rameau, Benda, and Bach. The instrument was once again a French double after Hemsch and Blanchet built in 2010 by the Montreal maker Yves Beaupré—an instrument that usually resides in our living room. The things that always stand out for me in Mahan's playing are virtuosity, varied color, and passionate commitment, all of which were very much in evidence throughout the program. The opening set of Frescobaldi pieces included the famous Toccata settima, played with freedom and brilliance...
For the NYC performance, Jean Rondeau sat at a French double by David J. Way (1987) and opened the recital not with the famous Aria but with an apparently improvised prelude, which had the character of a prélude non mesuré from an earlier generation of clavecinistes. But then the Aria arrived, first with the standard ornamentation, then with more ornaments on the repeats, all done with skill and taste. The thirty variations that followed were impeccably rendered, by turns dazzling and sensuous...
It was purely by chance that I learned about Bach at One. In March 2011 I was having lunch with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in months. He sang in the Trinity Wall Street choir, and I asked him what was new.
“Oh, Julian’s doing the cantatas next week.”
“Julian Wachner. He’s the new music director.”
“Ah. Whose cantatas?”
“Really? Which ones?”
“ALL OF THEM.”
Around 1973 my first lute teacher, Frank Eyler, lent me Wilfrid Mellers’s classic study on François Couperin, whose music was then entering my life. ...About the same time, I bought the Vox Box of Couperin harpsichord suites performed by Alan Curtis—six long-playing sides that I listened to again and again, returning most frequently to the Huitième Ordre in B minor (1717). As it happens, Mellers singled out the Huitième for special praise: it was, he wrote, “almost uniformly serious, even tragic ... a good case can be made out for the eighth as the greatest individual ordre.” So it was with great joy that my wife, Rebecca Pechefsky, and I embarked on our latest project back in January: a video of the entire suite, played on a French double-manual instrument built by Yves Beaupré in 2010 that we purchased, at least in part, with a view to recording this work. Read on and enjoy the video here...
Bach’s Goldberg Variations was published in Nuremberg in 1741 with the dryly descriptive title “Aria with assorted variations for a harpsichord with two manuals.” It was one of those rare works that Bach actually took the time and trouble to publish, and the work evidently represented an achievement that, as he entered what would be his final decade, he was determined to preserve for posterity.