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Kaikhosru Shapurji SORABJI (1892-1988)
One Hundred Transcendental Studies, Nos. 1-25 (1940-44): Mouvementé [1:50]; II. Vivace e leggiero [1:09]; III. [4:17]; IV. (Scriabinesco) [2:53]; V. Staccato e leggiero [1:24]; VI. [1:37]; VII. Leggiero abbastanza [1:07]; VIII. [1:56]; IX. Staccato e leggiero [0:58]; X. Con brio ed impeto - Volante [3:09]; XI. (Animato abbastanza) [1:37]; XII. Leggiero quasi saltando [1:44]; XIII. [3:31]; XIV. Tranquillamente soave [4:35]; XV. [1:40]; XVI. [2:43]; XVII. Molto accentato [1:56]; XVIII. Liscio. Tranquillamente scorrevole [5:15]; IXX. Saltando e leggiero [2:12]; XX. Con fantasia [5:24]; XXI. Con eleganza e disinvoltura [4:37]; XXII. Leggiero volante e presto assai [1:24]; XXIII. Dolcemente scorrevole [4:00]; XXIV. Con fantasia e grazia [5:40]; XXV. Vivace e secco [2:42]
Frederick Ullén (piano)
rec. July 2003, December 2005, Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm, Sweden. DDD
BIS CD 1373 [71:11]


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 doyens.

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.

Rob Barnett


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