Mahan Esfahani

Bach: The Toccatas, BWV 910-916

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Bach is generally thought of as a musical conservative who wrote his late masterpieces in a style that was already antiquated. However, during his youth he wrote, like many other composers, some wildly experimental music. A toccata is often connected to a fugue, in Bach's music and that of others, but these pieces are freestanding. Bach wrote them during his period working for the Weimar court, and they're so unlike the rest of his music that they have been rarely performed. They may have been written for a clavichord, which would intensify their inward spirit, but they are quite virtuosic. The brilliant harpsichord renditions here by Mahan Esfahani are more than defensible. The toccatas transfer the multi-sectional structure of earlier Baroque ensembles to the keyboard and add chromaticism liberally. The result is dark, brooding, volatile music that emerges from time to time into the light. You could sample anywhere except for the final toccata, which is not like the others: it is a three-section piece resembling the Italian Concerto for keyboard, BWV 971. Try the nearly 15-minute Toccata in D minor, BWV 913, which truly goes all over the map. CD buyers will benefit from an essay by Esfahani that delves further into this strange music. Highly recommended.

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