Poul Ruders: Harpsichord Concerto (World Premiere Recording) [DSD EP]

Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Leif Segerstam, Mahan Esfahani

(4 press reviews)
Original Recording Format: DXD
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World Premiere Recording!

Harpsichord Concerto is a World Premiere Recording featuring the music of Poul Ruders.  It is performed by Mahan Esfahani on the Harpsichord with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam.  This is a 20 minute DSD EP (extended play) release that is specially priced at NativeDSD Music.

One day in 2019 as Ruders started up his computer, a commission from the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra popped up on the screen. Requested was a new piece for harpsichord and symphony orchestra, starring the phenomenal harpsichord virtuoso Mahan Esfahani.

How does one describe a phenomenon like Poul Ruders? No sooner have you found the “mot juste” than something in the music clamors to contradict it. He can be gloriously, explosively extroverted one minute – withdrawn, haunted, intently inward-looking the next. Super-abundant high spirits alternate with pained, almost expressionistic lyricism; simplicity and directness with astringent irony. All of which can be vividly heard and experienced in this new concerto.

Harpsichordist, organist, scholar and musical gadfly Mahan Esfahani stands in the vanguard of the new generation of performers liberating instruments previously regarded as the provenance of the early music specialists and bringing them into 21st century concert halls with music to match.

Leif Segerstam’s role as honorary conductor for Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, concert activities and recordings The Poul Ruders Harpsichord Concerto are made possible by generous support from Det Obelske Familiefond and Augustinus Fonden. The Harpsichord Concerto was commissioned and composed with generous support from the Danish Arts Foundation.

Mahan Esfahani – Harpsichord
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra
Leif Segerstam, Conductor


Please note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Avanti Risoluto
Vivace. Martellato alla breve

Total time: 00:20:58

Additional information





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Analog to Digital Converter

Horus, Merging Technologies at DXD (352.8 kHz)

Digital Audio Workstation

Pyramix, Merging Technologies with Tango Controller

Executive Producers

Hjarne Fessel and Lars Hanniba

Financial Support

Leif Segerstam’s role as honorary conductor for Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, concert activities and recordings The Poul Ruders Harpsichord Concerto are made possible by generous support from Det Obelske Familiefond and Augustinus Fonden. The Harpsichord Concerto was commissioned and composed with generous support from the Danish Arts Foundation.

Mastering Engineers

Preben Iwan (DXD), Tom Caulfield (DXD to DSD Transfers)

Microphone Preamps

Horus, Merging Technologies


Decca Tree with 3x DPA 4006-TL


Monitored on B&W Nautilus Diamond speakers




Original Recording Format


Preben Iwan

Recording Engineer

Preben Iwan

Recording Location

Recorded Live at Symphonic Hall in Århus, Denmark on September 10, 2020

Release DateMay 13, 2022

Press reviews

Fanfare 5 out of 5

Poul Ruders is a composer of such broad stylistic range that you can never predict what direction any new work of his might take. It may be a fiercely uncompromising journey, as in his First Violin Concerto; referential to recognizable musical tropes as in his Second Guitar Concerto (“Paganini Variations”), or an examination of color as in his Accordion Concerto, “Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.” Usually, all these elements are present to some extent in his work, as they are in this exciting Harpsichord Concerto from 2019.

The first movement opens with an almost ceremonial orchestral statement, and similar portentous orchestral writing punctuates the movement while the soloist busies himself with moto perpetuo figuration. This is clearly a reference to Baroque music, but harmonically edgy. The disquiet comes from a feeling of the soloist as an individual in an unfriendly environment; a sense of keeping one’s head down and keeping busy. The Andante gives us a gentler version of the same thing: here, the solo instrument is more introspective, almost dreamlike––dreams are often a part of Ruders’s inspiration––in an atmospheric but still vaguely ominous orchestral setting. In the Vivace third movement, the harpsichord becomes more assertive and, finally in cahoots with the orchestra, a relentless, chugging energy is produced. It is as if the individual had decided to join the rat race. This is later punctuated (alla breve) with a chorale that resembles a distorted variation of the Dies irae theme. The movement progresses this way until it comes to a halt on an orchestral chord of indeterminate tonality, leaving us harmonically up in the air. As well as its interest as sheer music, Ruders’s concerto has something to say about the modern era and our place in it. It is a fascinating piece, towering above many 20th- and 21st-century harpsichord works, because it moves on from examining the instrument from a historical perspective and literally integrates it into a contemporary world.

The performance is quite brilliant. I last encountered harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani in Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, part of The Brandenburg Project (a compilation of new companion works written to accompany the six Bach concertos), where he contributed a dazzling cadenza. His work in Ruders’s concerto surmounts every technical challenge, belying its difficulty.

The Aarhus Symphony Orchestra plays with discipline and superb blend, and of course Segerstam is in his element. The sound quality, as always with this company, is open, warm, and natural. 


Pizzicato 5 out of 5

To juxtapose the harpsichord with a symphony orchestra may seem senseless at first glance. How is this delicately chirping instrument supposed to compete with the masses of loud instruments? And anyway, harpsichord and modernity? But we’re in the 21st century, and a lot goes into careful design. Today, the tonal imbalance can be designed with discreet amplification of the keyboard instrument in such a way that it is audible and the technology still remains in the background. And why not bring it into today’s sound language? Basically, most of the instruments are old, but have been technically improved.

Poul Ruders, who is special and versatile at the same time, dared to take on this task, inspired by a commission from Aarhus. He was also attracted by the idea of listening from the past to the present and vice versa. The movements are all of the same length, seven minutes each, and thus have a more or less baroque extension. The result is an outwardly classical work in three movements, fast, slow and lively.

The slow movement then takes the lyrical path, with the briefly reverberating notes of a harpsichord not really allowing for a romantically expansive melody there either. But the third movement then sounds truly mechanically hammered. Whereby also the first movement already, at least in the solo part, has something of percussive dance. Ruders succeeds at all times, regardless of technical amplification, in giving the harpsichord free rein.

In this recording of the premiere, the harpsichord is also able to perform its solo passages freely because the composition gives the appropriate spaces between orchestral passages. But even when the ensemble accompanies, selected and discreetly used instrumental groups manage not to overtax the balance. In sound, one cannot always deny the proximity to minimal music with the hammered and only slightly changing developments, but Ruders would not be Ruders if he did not lead through the composition on his own path. Overall, the work offers a sustaining blend of modern and baroque language-targeting symbiosis that works out. Yet, again, the piece does not overwhelm me either. But such aspects are also a matter of personal taste.

Mahan Esfahani is one of the most sought-after harpsichordists of our time, who, in addition to the technical requirements, has the necessary curiosity and musical intuition to perform such a composition. Therefore he succeeds in an exciting and intensive interpretation. Only at certain points the impression may arise that all participants still approached the new work somewhat cautiously and reverently, where even more expressivity would have done good.

In Leif Segerstam, the symphony orchestra from Aarhus, which commissioned the composition, has a conductor who is as accomplished as he is young at heart, holding the threads together appropriately and forming the orchestra into rhythmically animated action that attentively accompanies the soloist.

The Times 4 out of 5

Classical Album of the Week

A century ago, harpsichords were generally regarded as interesting silvery creatures pushed out of history by the rise of the piano. That’s scarcely true today, not with the growth of the period instrument movement, nor with the rise of Mahan Esfahani, the dynamic Iranian-American who believes the harpsichord should stop at nothing, not even a minimalist milestone such as Steve Reich’s Piano Phase.

Esfahani particularly welcomes new concertos for his instrument, though it usually needs a little amplifying to make itself heard against a full orchestra. Here, on a digital-only release, we find him bustling through a recent concerto by the Danish composer Poul Ruders, best known here for his abrasive opera The Handmaid’s Tale, revived last month in London. The new work, a modern twist on the baroque concerto model, is a far easier listen, though you wouldn’t imagine from the headlong dash of its outer movements that the harpsichord can also delight in suave melodies; decorative flourishes, too.

Matters calm down in the worried beauties of the magical slow movement, where Ruders’ ear for color and texture is particularly acute. Elsewhere in this live recording of the work’s 2020 premiere, Esfahani’s sparkle and energy meet their match in the spry sounds of the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the Finnish maverick Leif Segerstam.

All in all, I emerged from listening feeling refreshed and very clean. As if I’d just stepped out of a hot shower.


MusicWeb International

There’s almost a ‘fairy-tale’ story to the Harpsichord Concerto itself. One day in 2019, as Poul Ruders switched on his computer, up popped a commission from the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, for a new piece for harpsichord and orchestra – which would feature leading international virtuoso, Mahan Esfahani. The rest, they say, is history.

In terms of the performance itself, Mahan Esfahani’s playing is simply breath-taking throughout. Ruders impressively-idiomatic writing for the harpsichord is centered on Esfahani’s prodigious skill and virtuosity, as well as his all-embracing sense of musical architecture, expressive niceties, and incredible feel for detail. It might, therefore, be felt that a bespoke concerto like this would fit the player like a well-tailored suit. His prodigious talents are such that he is able to surmount every technical challenge, effectively belying its obvious difficulty.

The Aarhus Symphony Orchestra’s highly-disciplined playing, full rich sound, and scintillating timbres, also make a telling contribution, and Leif Segerstam is totally at home here, offering real support and direction from the front.

This is the first exclusively-digital download that I have had the great pleasure to review, but the actual process was easy and painless – and I didn’t feel a thing, either. Had the Concerto simply appeared as a conventional album, it would surely have been quickly rounded upon by potential buyers, for its meagre playing time of twenty minutes or so. As such, it would certainly have needed a lot more music to partner it on disc, given that the average album length is roughly sixty to seventy minutes, making the digital format the only viable way forward on this occasion.

But if you’re willing and able to embrace the concept of a digital EP, you won’t miss out on accessing what is a simply fascinating work, which represents the absolute summation of an exemplary performance, outstanding recording, and, of course, a truly-absorbing composition that really transcends similar works of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries

I have, however, deliberately left one question unanswered until now – whether Poul Ruders has actually achieved his goal of creating the perfect symbiosis of old and new? I definitely think he has, and in a highly-successful and original way, too. Furthermore, for me this work has confirmed the time-honoured adage that you’re never too old to learn a new trick – or, at least to learn to appreciate it.


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