Finally we have a great recording of this spellbinding piece back to the
repertoire. Sorabji's heinously difficult music is well-nigh unperformable,
distinctly due to the composer's attitude to society in general which created
a series of complex and mammoth compositions that remain unrecorded. In fact
this is a live relay of the 1983 concert which Madge gave in New York, certainly
one of his best performances of Clavicembalisticum. I remember being enthused
by the piece when I read an extensive article in IPQ about John Ogdon's studio
recording for Chris Rice's obscure label Altarus.
There I thought that the writer exaggerated his claim on the importance of
that flawed recording, indeed it is dismissed in the notes for this release
as plainly flawed, apparently Ogdon takes over an hour longer than Madge,
surely too much. Indeed Madge had me completely breathless with his amazing
and incredible virtuosity in this, the sine qua non of all piano
repertoire. Some parts such as the massive Passacaglia in the Fourth part
are altogether too difficult for comprehension, indeed one wonders what Sorabji
was thinking about when writing such complex notes in such a dissident manner.
However there are rewards to be had in the Third Part where the sheer
overwhelming force of the Theme and Variations carries all before it in technical
accomplishment and unuldarated mastery.
The introductory essays accompanying the booklet espouse on the writing of
overlong works which can be explained in shorter terms and occasionally I
really felt that Sorabji overstates some of the fugal passages to an impossible
extent. And I have to be honest, if there are any wrong notes in Madge's
performance then I did not spot them! BIS's packaging is the usual excellence
with notes by Sorabji experts together with a short introduction from Madge
who deserves the highest posssible praise for his incredible playing. The
recording is also quite outstanding with a crystal-clear piano and minimal
audience noise except the deserving and excruciating applause that concludes
what must have been a memorable event. Reading some of Sorabji's venomous
writings puts Opus Clavicembalisticum more into perspective, a work of huge
and daunting proportions but one with a deep personal message behind it.
Now, what would Sorabji say of that? I shudder to think!