Bis are not a company
for half measures. They already have
several Sorabji discs in the catalogue
including the monumental Opus Clavicembalisticum.
Now they have set about recording the
composerís grand cycle of one hundred
Etudes with Frederick Ullén.
Taken as a whole this Ďcentaineí, at
seven hours, represents Sorabjiís second
longest work. His longest is the nine
hour Symphonic Variations.
Sorabjiís piano writing
is typically elaborate from the torrential
upward sweep in Mouvementé
(I) via the wild and spiky V to the
grotesque hammering angularity of XXV
- a fantastic Medtnerian march. The
dramatic and passionate writing in between
can be found in the Tasso gallop and
rush of VII, the aristocratic swell
and crash of combers (X), the hard martellato
writing of XV and the icy hammering
of XIX. IX takes urgency to the edge
of manic. XVII passingly recalls the
writing of Warlock in his zany Codpieces.
Did Sorabji have the maelstrom in mind
in the patterned rushing and cross-currenting
of XI. Continuing the theme we seem
to hear in the Dolcemente scorrevole
(XXIII) the intricate whorls and swirls
of chiming tidal races and currents.
There is grotesquerie too, both in an
essay (XXII) involving glissandi on
chords and in the Vivace e leggiero
(II) - Rachmaninov in spate. Contrast
is found in IV in which it is as if
we hear the music through reflections
in fractured mirrors moving from shard
to shard in liquid ebb and flow. Speaking
of which, a more elaborate and romanticised
take on the subject matter of Griffesí
Acqua Paola can be heard in III
alongside a sumptuous Rachmaninov-style
melody. XIII is an extremely impressionistic
piece: the suggestion of a silky gauze
held up to a wintry sun while XVIII
is in similar vein, yet more majestic.
XIV comprises a drift of melodic lines
shifting in voiles, overlapping clarifying
and blending. XX picks up on his Perfumed
Garden style in a sensual ecstatic
fusion of Chopin and William Baines
Ullén was born
1968 and clearly lacks nothing in determination
and artistry in this most challenging
of music. Amongst his other recordings
is a disc of the complete Ligeti Etudes
for Wergo. He contributes the notes
for this issue. These can be read with
valuable general introductions by Kenneth
Derus one of the world's leading Sorabji
That this disc became
feasible at all is down to the editorial
work of Marc-André Hamelin, Simon
Abrahams and Alexander Abercrombie.
Is it too much to hope
that Bis and Ullen will also tackle
Sorabjiís piano concertos?
If you enjoy the piano
music of York Bowen, Medtner, Foulds
or Conlon Nancarrow and are prepared
to go just the extra mile you should
find this disc extremely rewarding.
Watch out for later volumes.