While geographically speaking Sorabji is an English
composer he certainly does not belong in the lyrico-pastoral schools
of Finzi, Head, Gurney, Howells and Warlock. He is not a composer of
direct tunefulness. Rather his strengths lie in ecstatic harmonic complexity.
His approach can be mapped out from Oriental and ecstatic co-ordinates
we associate with Szymanowski (Love Songs of Hafiz Op. 26 and
Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin Op. 42), Ravel (Chansons Madécasses
and Chants Hébraïques), Bernard van Dieren (Chinese
Symphony still unrecorded), Schoenberg (The Book of the Hanging
Gardens) and Delage (Poèmes Hindous). The lie and
fall of the sung lines can seem obtuse. They often proceed unlinked
to the piano part.
Elizabeth Farnum, a dramatic soprano, is equal to the
considerable challenge of these songs which demand and receive both
delicacy and a tempestuous fulminant. The tracks she follows are rolling,
wayward and exotic; dense with the profuse undergrowth of wild-eyed
ideas and touching on the realms of Havergal Brian’s Wine of Summer
with its hectically luxuriant setting of Lord Alfred Douglas’s The
Wine of Summer. Comparing Farnum’s singing with that of Jane Manning
(with Yonty Solomon in a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of 14 August 1982) Farnum
retains a more voluptuous tone with less sign of strain across the tortuous
demands. It is not all stürm und drang. Take for instance
Pantomime which has a coquettish flightiness. In Hymne à
Aphrodite the listener really appreciate the resonance of the studio
in which this was recorded. The singing has about it a dazzling confidence
verging on hubris. As for the style this is the antithesis of Granville
Bantock’s Straussian style (see recent Dutton Epoch collection). In
Chrysilla we encounter a dramatic scena and at the end there
is a devastatingly effective retreat into hooded tone and a strange
harmonic shift. In the menacing Poplars storming upward slashing
tumbles of notes, excellently handled by Margaret Kampmeier, are just
as memorable as the diaphanous iridescence of L’Heure Exquise.
In Vocalise I expected to find some kinship with Medtner’s Sonata-Vocalise
of almost thirty years later. Instead there is some muezzin-like
melisma mixed with glint and hardness.
The only real sadness is that Centaur do not provide
the sung texts. We could not have more authoritative notes. These are
by the composer and Sorabji archive curator, Alistair Hinton.
see also www.ElizabethFarnum.com