Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

Kaikhosru Shapurji SORABJI (1892-1988)
Michael Habermann plays Sorabji: The Legendary Works for Piano

Volume One: Early Works [55:34]
Two Piano Pieces: In the Hothouse (1918) [6:05], Toccata (1920) [3:33]
Fantaisie Espagnole (1919) [15':13]
Valse Fantaisie: Hommage à Johann Strauss (1925) [15:22]
Pastiche: Hindu Merchant's Song (Rimsky-Korsakov) (1922) [4:05]
Pastiche: Habanera from Bizet's Carmen (1922) [4:38]
Pastiche: Chopin's Valse, Op. 64, No. 1 (1922) [4:13]
Michael HABERMANN (b.1950): A la manière de Sorabji: "Au clair de la lune" (August 1972) [1:50]
Volume Two: Nocturnes [71:00]
Le jardin parfumé - Poem for Piano (1923) [19:05]
Nocturne: Djâmî (1928) [22:12]
Gulistan (The Rose Garden) - Nocturne for Piano (1940) [29:32]
Volume Three: Assertive Works [71:16]
Introito and Preludio-Corale from Opus Clavicembalisticum (1929-1930) [13:15]
Prelude, Interlude and Fugue (1920-22) [3:13, 5:44, 6:03]
Fragment for Harold Rutland (1926, rev. 1937) [2:47]
Fantasiettina sul nome illustre dell'egregio porta Christopher Grieve ossia Hugh M'Diarmid

(Tiny Little Fantasy on the Illustrious Name of the Distinguished Poet Christopher Grieve, i.e. Hugh M'Diarmid) (1961) [2:37]
"Quære reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora" ("Seek the rest of this matter among the things that are more secret") [1940] [16:49]
St. Bertrand de Comminges: "He was laughing in the tower" (1941) [20:20]
Michael Habermann (piano)
Recordings made 1980-1995 (ADD/DDD)
BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS427-429CD [55.34+71.00+71.16]



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I must declare an interest before launching this review. I have been a member of the BMS since circa 1980. Since 1995 I have been editor of the BMS Newsletter and an ex officio member of the Society’s executive committee.

Anyone with even a passing interest in the sultry, enigmatic and sensual music of Sorabji needs to have this set. It is a most thoroughly engrossing anthology from a brilliant pianist who is a veteran in Sorabji terms. He has lived with and reflected on this music for approaching forty years. Time and again while listening to this set I was struck by his loving attention to detailing, voicings and speeds. The music communicates Sorabji's striving after transcending the limitations of keyboard, of mechanical action and of the pedestrianly objective.

Michael Habermann's Sorabji odyssey began in an English bookshop in Mexico City in 1967. There he found and was transfixed by the Fantaisie espagnole. He bought the score for twelve pesos - the equivalent of one dollar. From there he moved to acquire every one of the then miserably small number of published scores. He met Sorabji in 1980 and was one of the handful of pianists (including John Ogdon and Yonty Solomon) given permission by the composer to perform and record his music.

In the Hothouse has all the humid atmosphere you would expect along with vestiges of La catédrale engloutie and of the more exotic pieces by Cyril Scott and Szymanowski. There is something of the time-slowed decay of a peal of bells about this. A development of this soundworld is to be found in Gulistan, Djami and The Perfumed Garden.

The pell-mell Toccata which might easily have influenced Conlon Nancarrow. At velocity it is a feral hurdy-gurdy display which when it decelerates looks towards Goossens’ piano music, Moeran's Bank Holiday and Bax's own Toccata. There are bold and fruity dissonances though nothing of Schoenberg's desiccation.

Fantaisie espagnole (termed by Sorabji an 'insipid baby piece') represents an intertwining of Iberian and Moorish culture. It surely takes some of its impressionistic ripeness from Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole which Sorabji transcribed and which has been impressively recorded by Habermann on BIS. The music drifts and raves conjuring focus-softened iridescent colours. Listen to the drifting pearly mist of notes at 10.03 onwards. This definitely represents the emir's garden and the houris' quarters rather than burros and gaudy bullring posters. The work is in three sections divided by cadenzas with each section faster than the last. The dedicatee is Norman Peterkin whose own piano suites should be revived and recorded.

The Valse Fantaisie. Here the sound is very different. It is digital unlike first three tracks with an ultra-refined sound and a good spatial sense. The music is suggestive of a multiplicity of veils of sound moving in gorgeous complexity. There are episodes that are punishingly explosive juxtaposed with those having a delightful delicacy (9.43). It is presented complete with applause. There are no coughs. This is the Rocky River, Ohio, world premiere performance.

The Hindu Merchant's Song is a pastiche of The Song of India from Rimsky's Sadko. It is not as densely complex as parts of the two fantasies. It keeps in touch with the gorgeous melodic line. The note decay at the end is wonderfully sustained - a real tribute to the recording engineers.

Habanera from Bizet's Carmen: Sorabji joys in subjecting the famous sultry tune to disruption and dissonance. When the tune rises assertively it is driven down again with its progress held back rather like the choreographed anarchic attack of the side-drum in Nielsen’s 5th. We are shown some blasted heath at 3.04. Its moments of crippled dissonance are like some Ultima Thule. The piece ends roundedly as if the master had become satiated with destruction. All very convincing although one is left wondering: crime or sublime? Sorabji glories in the Minute Waltz with the music dressed in robes of icy dissonance. Habermann's own fleetingly brief imitation of Sorabji's late style is a tribute piece in return for which Sorabji dedicated to Harbermann a 93 page ms entitled The Golden Cockerel by Rimsky-Korsakov - frivolous variations, anarchic, heretical, and perverse fugue.

The second CD groups three Nocturnes. These are no miniatures. Two time out either side of twenty minutes. The third and final work runs just short of half an hour in a single span. Le jardin parfumé relates to the erotic writings of Sheikh Nefzawi. The music is a continuous dreamy chime at about the same mezza volume. It radiates a slow luminosity without dazzle or glare. The phantasmal Djami is very similar in approach somehow suggesting the whorls of a fingerprint moving in a slow shimmer. Gulistan is the most highly attractive of these densely inventive Nocturnes. It was taken from a concert performance as the odd cough makes clear.

The third CD opens with the Introito and Preludio Corale from Opus Clavicembalisticum recorded in full on Altarus and Bis. Its striving legendary atmosphere is at first rather Baxian in its coruscating liquid motion - perhaps like parts of Winter Waters and The Devil That Tempted Saint Anthony. The music moves through episodes of portent and minatory gesture. It represents a more densely complex take on the Baxian landscape of Winter Legends ending in a modest and submissive turning away.

The Prelude, Interlude and Fugue is tracked in three segments. It starts mezza voce recalling the wild pearlescent running material of the toccata but somehow milder. It is seemingly unconcerned with human emotions, the exultation and mesmerism of the exercise serving as an end in itself. The Interlude is an impressive starry nocturne drizzled over with lunar light with a faintly jazzy shading. The fugue is patterned and busy but melodically alive. It has an intricate power that develops to thunderously intimidating scale in the lead up to the final bars.

Fragment for Harold Rutland. Harold Rutland (1900-1977) the pianist, composer and writer premiered this Fragment at the Aeolian Hall on 12 October 1927. Rutland, it will be remembered, wrote the notes for the Lyrita John Ireland mono series (RCS) as played by Alan Rowlands. The Fragment is very short - not even three minutes. The same goes for the Fantasiettina. It is a well rounded piece. The Scottish poet, Hugh M'Diarmid (1892-1978), whose real name was Christopher Grieve, was a close friend of Sorabji. It is quintessential Sorabji with its bright arpeggiation evoking rays of light in sound contrasted with a fast and furious ‘lightning strike’ at 2.23.

We then come to substantial pieces inspired by that doyen of the literate ghost story, Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) (known as ‘M.R. James’). The Quaere reliqua is based on the story: Count Magnus. Threat and Bartókian conflict is rife in these pages. Here there is less of focus-softened dreaming reflection - more of seditious swell and turbulence in a troubled sea. At 14.11 we gain a sense of the symphonic epic. This highly impressive piece is contemporary with Gulistan but with an utterly different ending in a sort of enigmatic reflection.

Then comes a concert performance, complete with the occasional cough, of Saint Bertrand de Comminges. It is inspired by the story ‘Canon Alberic's Scrap-book’ This at first has a Beethovenian epic character. Brittle spiralling runs of notes emulate the thin metallic laughter of the evil spirit in the tower of the church of St Bertrand in the French town of Comminges. There are some placid hymn-like passages with subtle dissonances spun in the background (11.02). Although there is much that is very peaceful the music rises to a gorgeous climax at 17.48.

The notes by Mr Habermann are entertaining, full, but well short of forbidding. Very much to the point. The discographical attributions are highly detailed.

This collection will appeal at many levels but especially to those curious about Sorabji. It would make a natural addition to the shelves of lovers of the music of Scriabin, Goossens, Szymanowski, Czesław Marek, Griffes and Godowsky. It afford a rare glimpse into the palanquin. How I wish he would have attempted a transcription of The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan (Griffes made his own of course), or of Farwell's The Gods of the Mountains.
This is a most thoroughly engrossing anthology from a brilliant pianist who is a veteran in Sorabji terms. An essential purchase and at this (or any) price an outstanding bargain.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Colin Clarke

 

=====================================================================

FULL DISCOGRAPHICAL TRACK LISTING

Volume One: Early Works [55:34]


1-2. Two Piano Pieces: In the Hothouse (1918) [6:05], Toccata (1920) [3:33] dedicated to Theodore Jenkins. Initial markings: Très lent. Toccata: D'une allure sèche: froidement animée et très précise.

Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes, of Penthouse Recordings. New York. NY. June 1979. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally Issued on ‘Sorabji: A Legend in His Own Time’. MusicMasters LP 20015 (1980).

3. Fantaisie Espagnole (1919) [15':13] dedicated to Norman Peterkin. Three sections: Prélude et introduction, Mouvement de habanera and Modérément animé.

Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes of Penthouse Recordings. New York, NY, June 1979. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: A Legend in His Own Time’, MusicMasters LP 20015 (1980)>

4. Valse Fantaisie: Hommage à Johann Strauss (1925) [15:22] dedicated to Vincent Marrot.


<Digital. unedited recording by Michael Crider of The Chamber Recording Society of the world premiere performance at Rocky River, OH. on November 19, 1984. Steinway piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: Piano Music’, MusicMasters 20018Y (1987)>

5. Pastiche: Hindu Merchant's Song (Rimsky-Korsakov) (1922) [4:05]

<Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes of Penthouse Recordings, New York, NY, June 1980. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: Le jardin parfumé’, MusicMasters 20019 (1982)>

6. Pastiche: Habanera from Bizet's Carmen (1922) [4:38]

<Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes of Penthouse Recordings, New York, NY, June 1979. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: A Legend in His Own Time’, MusicMasters 20015 (1980)

7. Pastiche: Chopin's Valse, Op. 64, No. 1 (1922) [4:13]

<Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes of Penthouse Recordings, New York, NY, June 1980. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: Le jardin parfumé’, MusicMasters 20019 (1982)>

8. Michael HABERMANN (b.1950): A la manière de Sorabji: "Au clair de la lune" (August 1972) [1:50]


<Digital, unedited recording by Pro-Digital, Washington, D.C., of the world premiere performance given at the American Liszt Society Festival, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., October 8. 1993. Steinway piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: The Legendary Works’, Élan 82264 (1995)>

Volume Two: Nocturnes [71:00]

Le jardin parfumé - Poem for Piano (1923) [19:05] dedicated to Christopher à Becket Williams.

<Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes of Penthouse Recordings. New York. NY, June 1980. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: Le jardin parfumé’, MusicMasters 20019 (1982)>

Nocturne: Djâmî (1928) [22:12] dedicated to Reginald Norman Best.

<Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes of Penthouse Recordings, New York, NY, June 1980. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: Le jardin parfumé’, MusicMasters 20019 (1982)>


Gulistan (The Rose Garden) - Nocturne for Piano (1940) [29:32] dedicated to Frank Holliday.
<Digital, unedited recording by Pro-Digital, Washington, D.C. of the world première performance given at the American Liszt Society Festival, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., October 8. 1993. Steinway piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: The Legendary Works’. Elan 82264 (1995)>

Volume Three: Assertive Works [71:16]

1. Introito and Preludio-Corale from Opus Clavicembalisticum (1929-1930) [13:15] dedicated to Hugh MacDiarmid.

<Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes of Penthouse Recordings; New York, NY, June 1979. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: A Legend in His Own Time’, MusicMasters 20015 (1980)>

2-4. Prelude, Interlude and Fugue (1920-22) [3:13, 5:44, 6:03] dedicated to R. H. Brittain.

<Analog recording by Michael Crider of The Chamber Recording Society, Rocky River, OH, November 19, 1984 of the world premiere performance. Steinway piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: Piano Music’, MusicMasters 20018Y (1987)>

5. Fragment for Harold Rutland (1926, rev. 1937) [2:47] Initial marking: Moderatamente, con fantasia.

<Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes of Penthouse Recordings, New York, NY, June 1979. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: A Legend in His Own Time’, MusicMasters 20015 (1980)>

6. Fantasiettina sul nome illustre dell'egregio porta Christopher Grieve ossia Hugh M'Diarmid

(Tiny Little Fantasy on the Illustrious Name of the Distinguished Poet Christopher Grieve, i.e. Hugh M'Diarmid) (1961) [2:37] Initial marking: Vivo, con impeto.


<Analog studio recording by Sydney Stokes of Penthouse Recordings, New York, NY, March 5, 1980. Mason & Hamlin piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: The Legendary Works’, Élan 82264 (1995)>

7. "Quære reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora" ("Seek the rest of this matter among the things that are more secret") [1940] [16:49]

<Digital studio recording by Frank Ayd IV of Flite 3 Recordings, Baltimore, MD, made at Warfield Pianos, January 22, 1995. Feurich piano courtesy of Phil Warfield; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: The Legendary Works’, Elan 82264 (1995)>

8. St. Bertrand de Comminges: "He was laughing in the tower" (1941) [20:20] dedicated to Edward Mason. Initial marking: Legatissimo quasi organo lontano.

<Analog recording by Michael Crider of The Chamber Recording Society, Rocky River, OH, November 19, 1984 of the world premiere performance. Steinway piano; Originally issued on ‘Sorabji: Piano Music’, MusicMasters 20018Y (1987)>



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