Mahan Esfahani’s goal in life, his biographical note says, is to “bring the harpsichord to the concert mainstream”. To further this, the Iranian-American musician commissions new pieces, which is certainly one way of taking the keyboard instrument that plucks its strings out of history’s cocoon and welcoming it into the modern world. The other way is to give such thunderously exciting performances of old repertoire that anyone with ears to hear will sit there with mouth agape.
As the outstanding harpsichordist of the younger generation, Esfahani naturally plays the toccatas on a harpsichord… Esfahani’s playing feels free and spontaneous without losing the underlying pulse of the music. The toccatas display their brilliance proudly. One can imagine the young Bach showing off his prowess just like this.
Meyers floated in, 1741 “Vieuxtemps” del Gesù in hand, wearing a voluminous gown in a soft black, its overlaid geometric pattern a seeming nod to the hall’s distinctive woodwork. Vieaux, also in black, took his seat and with a quick smile between them, they jumped into the music. An arrangement of Arcangelo Corelli’s Sonata in D minor, Op. 5, No. 12, “La Folia,” with variations headed the program. Fleet fingerwork in both instruments marked the players as virtuosos, but the variations that showcased the artists at their best allowed Vieaux to indulge in a little head bobbing, as he navigated his guitar with astonishing ease, and Meyers to pull a sultry voice from her del Gesù.
Marc-André Hamelin has been a regular visitor to San Francisco for some time. Yet, until Sunday’s concert as part of the San Francisco Symphony’s “Great Performers Series,” he had not given a solo recital in Davies Symphony Hall. With San Francisco’s biggest concert stage all to himself, he made a case for being one of the greatest artists of today.
Julian Schwarz had a lot to celebrate on Friday night. The American-born cellist played a recital at the Austrian Embassy, presented by the Embassy Series, bringing together composers associated with the city of Vienna. In several amiable turns at the microphone between pieces, Schwarz explained that since his last performance here, in 2015, he had become an Austrian citizen and was now engaged to Marika Bournaki, the pianist sharing the stage with him.