Great Gramophone review.
November 14, 2023
No prizes for guessing the focus of this multi-composer programme; and yes, this would hardly be the first programme to honour the far-reaching influence of Arcangelo Corelli. Few, though, make for such a consistently gripping and gorgeous listen as this one does.
This is a delectable combination of instruments: the slightly rugged tonal richness and depth of Hille Perle’s 1686 Matthias Alban viola da gamba, meeting the sparkling whoomph of Esfahani’s double-manual Kramer-built Italian harpsichord, and Michala Petri’s assortment of Baroque recorders (A=415) by Swiss maker Heinz Ammann. Sadly we’re not given the detail on what recorder features on which track, but I can tell you that Petri’s alto-shaped entrance in the initial Largo of the disc’s opener, Corelli’s Sonata da chiesa in B minor, Op 3 No 4, couldn’t sound more perfect in its clean, wide, lucid firmness. For an entirely different-coloured example of how brilliantly the three instruments and musical personalities blend and bounce off each other, I also can’t get enough of Telemann’s Sonata Corellisante No 2 in A, where Petri is on a sweet-toned soprano, against the glow of Perl in her own soprano registers and Esfahani’s luminous harpsichord. This is a radiant reading, full of tight, sprightly dialogue, its Allemande and closing Corrente the scenes of some of the entire programme’s most ravishing displays of silkily perfect recorder virtuosity and suavely sparky gamba shaping and ornamentation – driven, as across the album, by the sense of energy and intellectual spring radiating out from the direction of the harpsichord.
Three cheers, then, for Esfahani’s solo turn, Handel’s Harpsichord Suite in B flat, HWV434, voiced with such buoyant, rhetorically freewheeling ease that it sounds almost as if the harpsichord is playing itself, and with the Aria variations sitting as its crowning glory – a gradually accelerating crescendo of merrily magnificent excitement that feels on the one hand like a finger in the direction of period-appropriate sophistication (for reference, perhaps give Schiff’s elegant version a spin), and on the other hand, even more sophisticated.
Add the soft resonance of Garnisons Kirke in Copenhagen and warm, immediate capturing, and, well, talk about an album to put a spring in one’s step.
Gramophone November 14th Charlotte Gardner