Kaikhosru Shapurji SORABJI (1892-1988)
Symphonia brevis (Symphony No. 5 for solo piano).(1973)
Donna Amato (piano)
rec. no details given
ALTARUS AIR-CD-9064(2) [66:35 + 47:52]

Sorabji’s symphonies for solo piano are monumental. There are six of them: No, 1 Tantrik (1938-39), No. 2 (1954), No. 3 (1959-60), No. 4 (1962-64), No. 5 Symphonia Brevis (1973) and No. 6 (1975-76). Four of the six are estimated each to take more than four hours.

The Brevis runs to two hours and is dedicated to Alistair Hinton whose works have also been recorded by Altarus. Hinton is, among many other things, the guardian of the constantly evolving and enhancing Sorabji Archive – a rewarding facility with enviably in-depth coverage vying with that of the Joseph Marx site.

The music here recalls a cloak of many densely glistening colours swirling like a galaxy in a slow motion or at heady velocity - the centripetal vortex of a riptide whirlpool. The sound may be likened (crudely) to a luxuriant Szymanowski-Debussian jungle. Its sometimes riotous colour scheme is clamorous for orchestra in much the same way that Bax’s solo piano music calls out. The martellato writing of Bax’s Winter Legends is suggested more than once. You can hear it in the Nexus finale and in the Preludio quasi toccata. The music often rises over a long span and then fades to thinner textures which chime amid a shimmer of ambiguous rainbow harmonies. The hypnotically deliberate Adagio makes way for the headlong Preludio quasi toccata (III) and the surreal Klimtian ocean depths of Aria fiorita. The sonata ends in peaceful lapidary mystery.

Amato’s familiarity with the idiom is unassailable as is her command of dynamic as well as towering power and celerity. She has played many Sorabji works – representing an enormous investment in time, concentration and devotion. Her premieres include Variazione maliziosa e perversa sopra “La morte d’Åse” da Grieg (1974), Toccatinetta sopra C.F.G. (1928), Due sutras sul nome dell’amico Alexis (1981), Passeggiata arlecchinesca sopra un frammento di Busoni (“Rondò arlecchinesco”) (1981-82), Quaere reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora (1940) and on 16 March 2003 she premiered the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra [no. 5] [publ. as Concerto II] (1920) in Utrecht at the Vredenburg Music Center with the Radio Symfonie Orkest conducted by Ed Spanjaard. As for the Brevis she gave its first complete performance in June 2004 at the Merkin Concert Hall, New York.

The Brevis makes for demanding listening but the rewards keep coming. You hear more and are drawn in further every time you listen to this huge canvas. I wonder which of the other symphonies she has on her piano? And these days I would not rule out hopes for a cycle of the six piano concertos.

Rob Barnett

Makes for demanding listening but the rewards keep coming. You hear more and are drawn in further every time you listen to this huge canvas.

A video of Donna Amato's performance of the 'Adagio' from Symphonia brevis (Movement 2a) may be seen on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veeCl-s4FnM

Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.):
CD 1
I (“Andante”) [35:52]
IIa (“Adagio”) [13:05]
IIb (“Preludio quasi toccata”) [6:36]
IIc (“Aria fiorita”) [11:01]
CD 2
IId (“Interludio”) [5:33]
IIe (“Notturno”) [22:41]
IIf (“Nexus”; includes “Quasi fuga” and “Coda-Epilogo” followed by (“Punta d’organo”) [29:38]