FOR many keyboard players, Bach's Goldberg Variations are the biggest challenge of all: a simple tune with thirty ever more complicated variations that test the performer to the limit. For Mahan Esfahani, the brilliant Iranian-born, American trained harpsichordist, playing the work is like making a spiritual journey to discover not how Bach wrote it, but why.
The story goes that the Goldberg Variations were written to help an insomniac court harpsichordist get through the night.
True or not, it is late work that reveals Bach as extraordinarily adventurous. Bach wrote that he "prepared it for the soul's delight". Esfahani's performance certainly achieved this for the audience seemed wrapped in inner contemplation. He played on a two manual harpsichord. His keyboard technique is dazzling: he played some of the variations at incredible speeds but with such clean articulation that not a note was lost. He gave the work a spiritual quality and the performance certainly explained why Esfahani is so admired. His overall conception of the work as a journey towards peace and enlightenment was exactly right.