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Kaikhosru Shapurji SORABJI (1892-1988)
100 Transcendental Studies for piano (1940-44) (Nos. 63-71):
Fredrik Ullén (piano)
rec. Dec 2005, July 2014, Nybrokajen 11, Former Academy of Music, Stockholm.
BIS BIS-1853 [79:26]
100 Transcendental Studies for piano (1940-44) (Nos. 72–83):
Fredrik Ullén (piano)
rec. July 2014, March-April 2015, Aula Medica, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
BIS BIS-2223 [79:25]

Just as with Bis's Norrköping Pettersson symphony series this Sorabji cycle unfolds with a suitably unhurried gait which complements the span and stride of the music. Each disc is matched with a brief introduction to the composer from Sorabji luminary Kenneth Derus and invaluable work-specific notes by Fredrik Ullén. There are translations into German and French. Everything is done with soberly understated mastery. Each of the two discs is packed tight to just over the 79-minute mark. The sound is natural and Ullén's playing brilliant, both in its grandiloquence and its inner-world confidences.

BIS-CD-1853: En forme de Valse is a fantasy of dreamy convolution. The complexity falls away from time to time (10:12) but soon the veils and layering return in the manner of Ronald Stevenson's wilder luxurious reaches and of Bruce Hungerford's miraculously contrived performances of the Godowsky Chopin studies. After that 17- minute epic the short number 65 contrasts with a simpler sense of fluttering fantasy. 66 is marked lascia vibrare gli arpeggi and is another work of affluently liquifacient impressionism. Again it's extremely impressive. The short constantly glinting SottoVoce (68) makes way for the 26-minute No. 69 La punta d organo. Sottovoce. This, like much else here, has the feel of a slow-motion waterfall or maelstrom or a mercurial progress through a Daliesque landscape. Rhythmes brises provides collision and contrast but with nothing dreamy about it. Instead this is comparable to a Conlon Nancarrow player-piano piece crashing from one impact to another. Aria is a much gentler creature and the complexity is less. A smiling calm hangs like a signature over this piece which stands out unusually in this company. Its comparatively straight-singing ways sounds like a melted and drifting carillon between John Ireland and Cyril Scott.

BIS-CD-2223: The thunder and whisper of the very short Canonica gives way to the 18-minute Quasi preludio corale. This starts in prayer-like confiding. Its pace is slow and its textures unadorned - simpler even than Aria - but it rises to a sustained crashing bell-tower climax. Ostinato - Secco is dry and clean - a strutting, grotesque cortege ending with a stubborn protest. The big Passacaglia - Largo which runs to not far short of half an hour begins in introspection like the Preludio Corale. Yet along its progress it is every bit as rich as Aria and sprints from heroic to surreal from sharp focus to melted suggestion and finally arrives at a majestic conclusion. Imitationes is a brief piece of grand guignol. Mouvement semblable et perpétuel is a motoric flight in witchery. 'Perpétuel'? Well it ends in 1:34. Leggiero e veloce - otherwise unnamed - is all watery enchantment - a magical piece. The inlaid line with its stuttering limping progress sounds like a metamorphosed accompaniment to one of Peter Warlock's more straightforward songs. La Linea Melodica is suggestive of a distant swell and the far-off crash of surf. It's every bit as magical as the Leggiero e veloce. The suspensions is slow paced - not somnolent but very thoughtful. The short Sordamente e oscuramente minaccioso takes us back to the shattering clashes of Rhythmes brises. We end with Arpeggiated fourths in Sorabji's accustomed comfort zone of slow swirls, eddies and trills.

Volumes 1-3 (1-25; 26-43; 44-62) have already been reviewed here: Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3. Presumably there are two more CDs to come before the complete set of Transcendental Studies is complete. One cannot be sure given the drastic differences in duration of each study. Whatever happens Ullén and Bis have the project firmly in their grasp. Can we hope then that Ullén will turn to Sorabji's six piano concertos?

Ullen’s commentary on the Studies can be found at the Sorabji Archive.

Other notable Sorabji piano recordings have been reviewed here: Opus Clavicembalisticum (Geoffrey Douglas Madge), Transcriptions (Michael Habermann) and an extremely desirable three CD collection of Michael Habermann’s performances on the BMS and Naxos labels.

Rob Barnett

Track details
63. En forme de Valse. Leggiero con desinvoltura [17:00]
64. (untitled) [2:38]
65. (untitled) [2:33]
66. (untitled) [lascia vibrare gli arpeggi] [6:07]
67. (untitled) [4:10]
68. (untitled) Sottovoce [2:28]
69. La punta d'organo. Sottovoce [25:39]
70. Rhythmes brises [4:08]
71. Aria [13:14]
72. Canonica [2:11]
73. Quasi preludio corale. Sonorità piena morbida e dolcissima [17:57]
74. Ostinato. Secco – Fantasticamente grottesco [4:22]
75. Passacaglia. Largo [28:50]
76. Imitationes. Presto assai [1:10]
77. Mouvement semblable et perpétuel. Scorrevole [1:34]
78. (untitled). Leggiero e veloce [1:44]
79. The inlaid line. Legatissimo la linea melodica [2:08]
80. La linea melodica. Mormorando sordamente [5:46]
81. The suspensions. Lento quasi adagio e gravemente solenne [5:35]
82. (untitled). Sordamente e oscuramente minaccioso [2:28]
83. Arpeggiated fourths [4:12]



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