Brighton Festival –  Mahan Esfahani at Glyndebourne with Britten Sinfonia soloists

Mahan Esfahani clearly loves hosting a party and that is how this afternoon turned out, a feast of Bach. He was joined on stage by violinists Jacqueline and Katherine Shave, Dorothea Vogel (viola), Caroline Dearnley (cello), Stephen Williams (double bass) and Lynda Sayce (theorbo), with Thomas Hancox to play the flute for the Orchestral Suite No.2 in B minor. The superlative acoustics of the opera house made it seem like an intimate chamber performance. The strings even seemed to be breathing together. However, the balance between the harpsichord and the bass instruments was uneasy. Indeed, even the flute was louder. It was sometimes impossible to hear the theorbo.

Jacqueline Shave

Jacqueline Shave

The lid of the harpsichord was added and raised for the Keyboard Concerto in D minor so that the sound was thrown out further into the auditorium. Esfahani’s hands were never still. His ornamentation and particular use of the two keyboards was joyful – he had a twinkle in his eye whenever he did something precious. There was an interesting echo, like a ghostly keyboard, which added to the richness of sound.

The Keyboard Concerto in E major is not as familiar as the other works in this programme but just as entertaining on a Spring afternoon. The rain had held off and we were wallowing in a musical heaven.

Mahan Esfahani, so eloquent on the radio, took the opportunity to introduce the final item, the Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D major. He explained its origins and how it was really meant to be a concerto for violin and flute but somehow the harpsichord had managed to get the extended cadenza. The players were clearly enjoying the afternoon – Dearnley sported a serene smile throughout the last movement, and this joy spread through the house. Early music ensembles don’t often get the full blast of an opera house ovation but they certainly deserved it today.

Glyndebourne Opera House,
5 May 2024


Andrew Connal

J. S. Bach 1685-1750
Orchestral Suite No.2 in B minor BWV 1067
Keyboard Concerto in D minor BWV 1052
Keyboard Concerto in E major BWV 1053
Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D major BWV 1050

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