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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Toccatas BWV 910-916
Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, The Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Loughton, UK
HYPERION CDA68244 [76:53]

After Mahan Esfahani’s excellent and award-winning recording of the Goldberg Variations (479 5929), here he turns his attention to the seven Toccatas and delivers them with as much aplomb as his earlier Bach recording. We have become use to Bach’s many toccatas and fugues but here we have his relatively early standalone toccatas which were composed during his period working for the Weimar court and, unlike his many other fine examples, are more experimental in nature, which is perhaps the reason why these seven toccatas are less well known than their counterparts. These pieces show Bach the experimentalist, taking the earlier idea of the soloist being able to add their own improvisations around the written notes to further colour the music, making these pieces quite virtuosic in character and challenging for the performer. I do have the recording of the wonderful Blandine Rannou performing these pieces (ZZT111002), a recording which has rarely been out of the catalogues and which has just (August 2019) been reissued on the Alpha label (ALPHA 448).

The Toccatas are never dull, especially so in the hands of Mahan Esfahani, his energetic reading always paying dividends, even in the Toccata in C minor, where he is nearly a minute slower that Rannou, never sounding laboured or slow. The Toccatas give the interpreter new and differing challenges, with each being different from its predecessor. Esfahani is able to turn his talents to whatever challenges face him, this is evident from the very start, with the swirling introduction of the Toccata in F sharp minor with its heavy bass undertones coming off well. This is followed by a slow and stately section, a complete contrast to the opening, but Esfahani manages the transition effortlessly, as he does in the into the subsequent sections. The opening flourish of the D Major Toccata is handled well as is the gaily lit second section, with again, the transitions being wonderful throughout. The opening section of the G Major Toccata has always been a favourite of mine, with the bell like qualities of Bach’s writing being quite wonderful, here Esfahani exploits this effect to the full, only serving to heighten my fondness for this particular Toccata.

Throughout the disc Mahan Esfahani’s playing is excellent, his is a well-judged performance, a reading full of rhythmic intensity and tenderness when called for, one which stands up well against that of Blandine Rannou, indeed there is little to choose between either performance with each having stand out aspects that recommend them, but I personally am edging towards Esfahani’s account the more I listen to it. Esfahani also contributes the excellent and informative booklet notes to this recording. The harpsichord he uses for this recording is a modern one, with the instrument only being made in the year of this recording, a brief note describing the instrument is included in the booklet. The recorded sound is up to Hyperion’s usual high standard, with the instrument coming over well throughout, even in the more frantic sections. Overall, this is a wonderful disc, one which I am pleased to recommend.

Stuart Sillitoe

1 Toccata in F sharp minor, BWV910 [11:13]
2 Toccata in C minor, BWV911 [12:04]
3 Toccata in D major, BWV912 [12:32]
4 Toccata in D minor, BWV913 [14:21]
5 Toccata in E minor, BWV914 [8:04]
6 Toccata in G minor, BWV915 [10:07]
7 Toccata in G major, BWV916 [8:27]

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