Country : Czech Republic Label : Hyperion Genres and styles : Contemporary / Modern Classical Year : 2023

Mahan Esfahani – Martinu/Krasa/Kalabis: Harpsichord Concertos

· by Frédéric Cardin

After an eclipse of more than 150 years, the harpsichord once again became an instrument of lively new music in the 20th century, thanks to some important and influential works (such as Poulenc’s Concert champêtre). Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani offers us three of them on this album, recorded with brilliance and depth with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, and conducted with sparkling skill by Alexander Liebreich. 

Esfahani, sparkling and scintillating, brings to life concertos by Martinu, Krasa and Kalabis. The first is playfully spicy, blending Baroque contours with Stravinskian harmonies. Light, humorous, lively and energetic, it is one of the jewels of the repertoire. The work by Hans Krasa (who died in Auschwitz in 1944) is more angular and grating, daring a short seductive and jazzy episode in the 2nd movement, only to return to the sarcastic and mocking spirit of the beginning, slightly toned down. The unusual instrumentation is delightful: cello, double bass, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet and alto saxophone.

Victor Kalabis (1923-2006) takes the instrument into a resolutely contemporary world with a demanding work that openly flirts with atonalism. His Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings is frankly expressionistic, sometimes threatening. That said, it is not lacking in dynamism and is particularly convincing in its 3rd movement, an energetic presto that introduces dreamlike atonal floating episodes into a more chromatic and traditional framework. A work to be listened to again and again to grasp all its many intentions.

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