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“Time Present and Time Past” = Works of A. SCARLATTI, C.P.E. BACH, J.S. BACH, GORECKI, GEMINIANI & REICH – Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord/ Concerto Cologne — Archiv
CHRISTOPH NICHELMANN: Harpsichord Sonatas = 12 of them – Michele Benuzzi, harpsichord – Brilliant Classics

“Time Present and Time Past” = A. SCARLATTI: Variations on La Follia; GOREKI: Harpsichord Concerto; C.P.E. BACH: 12 Var. on Les Folies d’Espagne; GEMINIANI: Concerto grosso in d; REICH: Piano Phase for 2 Pianos; J.S. BACH: Harpsichord Concerto in d BWV 1052 – Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord/ Concerto Cologne — Archiv Produktion 479 4481 (4/14/15) [Distr. by Universal] ****:

CHRISTOPH NICHELMANN: Harpsichord Sonatas = 12 of them – Michele Benuzzi, harpsichord – Brilliant Classics 94809 (2 CDs) (2/24/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Esfahani may be the top harpsichordist, at least on recordings, of today. The young Iranian harpsichordist makes his DGG debut here with a typically adventurous mix of Baroque classics and minimalist masterpieces. The opening variations by his father show that Domencio Scarlatti wasn’t the only famous harpsichordist in the family.  The 8 1/2-minute harpsichord concerto by Goreki uses minimalist tendencies, but has a number of extra-musical dimensions that go beyound a mere elebration of sonorities. The 12-min. Geminiani concerto grosso has a rhythmic drive similar to what drew J.S. Bach to the concerto grossi of Vivaldi, and a fresh use of repetitive figurations.

Isfanhani is very proud of the over 16-min. Steve Reich Piano Phase, which he created using recording facilities on the harpsichord. But though I like a couple Reich mucho-minimalist works, I found this one annoying. The CD closes with a magnificent performance of my favorite Bach concerto, the famous Bach Concerto for Harpsichord in d minor, with the Concerto Köln.  There are several competing versions, including one on a PENTATONE 1973 4.0 channel reissue with I Musici, but that one is quite laid back compared to this urgent performance. I only wish it were in hi-res surround, but that isn’t going to happen unless Archiv/Universal see fit to release it as a Pure Audio Blu-ray, which is unlikely. There also is a fine video version of the d minor harpsichord concerto on a Bach & Vivaldi set with the Labéque sisters on an EuroArts DVD.

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Christoph Nichelmann is one of those composers whose music faded into total obscurity following their death, coming to light only lately due primarily to recordings.  He was born in northern Germany in 1717 and had lessons with J.S. Bach. He completed his education in Berlin and was second harpsichordist in the royal opera ensemble of the King of Prussia. He composed some chamber music, vocal and orchestral compositions, but his harpsichord sonatas and concertos are his most inspired works.

In these sonatas, we can still hear the heritage of Baroque music, but also the development of a more snsitive and expressive language. Like most of the music from the late 18th century, the sonatas do not descend into simplicity or vanity.

The harpsichordist has performed the complete Domenico Scarlatti works for harpsichord in Annecy, France, and has recorded the harpsichord concerti of both C.P.E. Bach and W. F. Bach, as well as Vivaldi album. While not quite as exciting as the Scarlatti sonatas, the sonatas of Nichelmann are serious works well worthy of this two-disc collection and we look forward to hearing more Nichaelmann.

—John Sunier

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