The Alternative Bach, With Mahan Esfahani

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
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01Traveller2019031720190915 (R3)

The music of J.S. Bach is a music of infinite possibility. Yet for decades, many critics and audiences have been obsessed by the idea that ‘correct’ and ‘authentic’ performances of his work exist.

In this 3-part series, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani challenges mainstream ideas of what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how Bach's music is performed. In each episode, Mahan will share a selection of his favourite recordings, many of which fall outside of what might be deemed acceptable by today's standards, but which he believes can broaden our appreciation of what Bach can be - ‘to renew our appreciation for his indestructible adaptability’.

In this first episode we hear how Bach’s music has taken on different meanings as it has travelled between different cultures. Mahan’s own itinerant life - born in Iran, raised in the United States and more recently living in the UK and continental Europe - has heightened his awareness of cultural differences within Western classical music and brought him into close contact with different approaches to Bach along the way.

Recordings this week come from Russia, central Europe and the States, as well as a rare 1930s recording of a cantata translated into Catalan.

Produced by Chris Elcombe.
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 3.

Mahan Esfahani picks recordings that challenge conventional wisdom about Bach's music.

Mahan Esfahani challenges what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how JS Bach's music is performed.

01Traveller2019031720190915 (R3)

The music of J.S. Bach is a music of infinite possibility. Yet for decades, many critics and audiences have been obsessed by the idea that ‘correct’ and ‘authentic’ performances of his work exist.

In this 3-part series, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani challenges mainstream ideas of what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how Bach's music is performed. In each episode, Mahan will share a selection of his favourite recordings, many of which fall outside of what might be deemed acceptable by today's standards, but which he believes can broaden our appreciation of what Bach can be - ‘to renew our appreciation for his indestructible adaptability’.

In this first episode we hear how Bach’s music has taken on different meanings as it has travelled between different cultures. Mahan’s own itinerant life - born in Iran, raised in the United States and more recently living in the UK and continental Europe - has heightened his awareness of cultural differences within Western classical music and brought him into close contact with different approaches to Bach along the way.

Recordings this week come from Russia, central Europe and the States, as well as a rare 1930s recording of a cantata translated into Catalan.

Produced by Chris Elcombe.
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 3.

Mahan Esfahani picks recordings that challenge conventional wisdom about Bach\u2019s music.

Mahan Esfahani challenges what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how JS Bach's music is performed.

02Outsiders2019032420190922 (R3)

Across the series, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani is challenging mainstream ideas of what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how Bach's music is performed. In this episode he pays tribute to the eternal outsiders of ‘polite’ Bach performance — those either ahead of their time in terms of unearthing historically informed methods, or who were not accepted after changing trends left them behind.

Mahan asks why Bach’s music is subjected to such rigid codification, and makes the case for an early Otto Klemperer recording of Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 that features a soprano saxophone playing the solo trumpet part. He digs out a rare Nadia Boulanger record from the 1930s with a Romanticised orchestral style that doesn’t pass much muster these days, and shares a brilliant modern-day live recording by a pianist going against the grain, Grigory Sokolov.

Produced by Chris Elcombe.
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 3.

Mahan Esfahani pays tribute to the iconoclasts that challenged 'polite' Bach performance.

Mahan Esfahani challenges what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how JS Bach's music is performed.

02Outsiders2019032420190922 (R3)

Across the series, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani is challenging mainstream ideas of what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how Bach's music is performed. In this episode he pays tribute to the eternal outsiders of ‘polite’ Bach performance — those either ahead of their time in terms of unearthing historically informed methods, or who were not accepted after changing trends left them behind.

Mahan asks why Bach’s music is subjected to such rigid codification, and makes the case for an early Otto Klemperer recording of Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 that features a soprano saxophone playing the solo trumpet part. He digs out a rare Nadia Boulanger record from the 1930s with a Romanticised orchestral style that doesn’t pass much muster these days, and shares a brilliant modern-day live recording by a pianist going against the grain, Grigory Sokolov.

Produced by Chris Elcombe.
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 3.

Mahan Esfahani pays tribute to the iconoclasts that challenged \u2018polite' Bach performance.

Mahan Esfahani challenges what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how JS Bach's music is performed.

Mahan Esfahani pays tribute to the iconoclasts that challenged 'polite' Bach performance.

03Innovators20190331
03Innovators2019033120190929 (R3)

In the final part of the series, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani ventures into the world of the innovators who have experimented with new instruments when recording Bach. By breaking wild, new ground that Bach could never have imagined, do we risk losing touch with the spirit of his music? Or might it sometimes bring us closer to it?

Mahan’s playlist features such pioneers as Wendy Carlos and her Moog synthesiser, and Gunnar Johansen and the Moor double-keyboard piano, as well as the accidental fruits born of a misguided attempt at historical revival: the ‘Bach bow’ as used by violinist Emil Telmanyi in the 1950s, which had the ability to play 4 or 5 strings at once - a feature mistakenly believed to have been present in Bach’s time.

Produced by Chris Elcombe.
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 3.

Mahan Esfahani explores recordings of Bach that feature experiments with new instruments.

Mahan Esfahani challenges what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how JS Bach's music is performed.

03Innovators20190331

In the final part of the series, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani ventures into the world of the innovators who have experimented with new instruments when recording Bach. By breaking wild, new ground that Bach could never have imagined, do we risk losing touch with the spirit of his music? Or might it sometimes bring us closer to it?

Mahan’s playlist features such pioneers as Wendy Carlos and her Moog synthesiser, and Gunnar Johansen and the Moor double-keyboard piano, as well as the accidental fruits born of a misguided attempt at historical revival: the ‘Bach bow’ as used by violinist Emil Telmanyi in the 1950s, which had the ability to play 4 or 5 strings at once - a feature mistakenly believed to have been present in Bach’s time.

Produced by Chris Elcombe.
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 3.

Mahan Esfahani explores recordings of Bach that feature experiments with new instruments.

Mahan Esfahani challenges what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how JS Bach's music is performed.

03 LASTInnovators2019033120190929 (R3)

In the final part of the series, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani ventures into the world of the innovators who have experimented with new instruments when recording Bach. By breaking wild, new ground that Bach could never have imagined, do we risk losing touch with the spirit of his music? Or might it sometimes bring us closer to it?

Mahan’s playlist features such pioneers as Wendy Carlos and her Moog synthesiser, and Gunnar Johansen and the Moor double-keyboard piano, as well as the accidental fruits born of a misguided attempt at historical revival: the ‘Bach bow’ as used by violinist Emil Telmanyi in the 1950s, which had the ability to play 4 or 5 strings at once - a feature mistakenly believed to have been present in Bach’s time.

Produced by Chris Elcombe.
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 3.

Mahan Esfahani explores recordings of Bach that feature experiments with new instruments.

Mahan Esfahani challenges what's 'right' or 'wrong' in how JS Bach's music is performed.