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Europadisc (UK) - A dream team, then – and, with a lavishly illustrated booklet, an easy recommendation for this endlessly charming and inspiriting music.

Europadisc (UK)

Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has been making rather a name for himself over the last year or so, especially since the release of his Gramophone Award winning disc of CPE Bach's Wurttemburg Sonatas on Hyperion. Since then, there has been a very well received live recital from the Wigmore Hall and a brand new set of works by Rameau, again on Hyperion. However, our review this week actually moves away from his solo work and looks at a collaboration he has made with virtuoso recorder player Michala Petri. Featuring sonatas (transcribed) by Corelli, it is entitled La Follia and features six of the Opus 5 Sonatas, including the famous set of variations from which the disc gets its title. It is beautifully played and recorded (in Hybrid SACD format by OUR Recordings) and comes highly recommended as our disc to buy this week. See below for the full review.
Incredibly, it's almost thirty-five years since Danish recorder player Michala Petri burst onto the international music scene with her first recordings for Philips. Yet on this latest disc from her own OUR Recordings label her playing is as fresh and sparkling as ever. Here she teams up with the young Iranian-born harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani – already something of a star in his own right – for a splendidly invigorating disc of sonatas by Arcangelo Corelli.

Published in 1700, Corelli's twelve Opus 5 Sonatas for violin and continuo were among his most popular, appearing in no fewer than forty-two editions (including various re-arrangements) during their first century of existence. The second half of the set comprises six sonatas taking their inspiration from the baroque dance suite, and it is little wonder that they proved such a success, for they combine Corelli's own unique cantabile style of melodic invention with a wondrously uplifting sense of rhythmic buoyancy.

These performances are based on an eighteenth-century edition by John Walsh of London, 'The whole exactly Transposed and made fitt for A FLUTE and A BASS with the aprobation of severall Eminent Masters'. With changes in figuration to accommodate the recorder, they work brilliantly as an instrumental showcase, designed for the growing market in home music-making. Esfahani's insightful booklet note explains how he and Ms Petri have consulted extensive contemporary editions in their choice of ornamentation and continuo realisation, and their performances are sublimely engaging. Slow movements (notably the Sarabandes) are beautifully expressive without being over-indulgent, while the faster ones are nicely sprung and alert – the Gavottes of Sonatas 9 and 10 turn into wonderfully agile tours de force.

The highlight, however, is certainly the twelfth Sonata, a kaleidoscopic set of variations on the celebrated La Follia theme (advertised by Walsh as 'the SPANISH FOLLY') that proved so popular in the baroque period and even influenced Liszt, Rachmaninov and Tippett. Here, Petri and Esfahani are ideally responsive to the changing character of each variation, and Ms Petri's command of the various figurations is dazzling.

The recordings, made in the sympathetic baroque surroundings of Copenhagen's Garrison Church, strike exactly the right balance between spaciousness and focus, with the the harpsichord quite rightly less closely miked than it would be for a solo recital, yet no detail is lost, and Esfahani's brilliant harpsichord playing is a perfect match for Ms Petri's seemingly effortless virtuosity. A dream team, then – and, with a lavishly illustrated booklet, an easy recommendation for this endlessly charming and inspiriting music. November 2014

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