KAIKHOSRU SHAPURJI SORABJI (1892-1988): 100 Transcendental Studies - Nos. 84-100.
Catalogue Number: 01W010
Description: Finally, this magnificent set of pieces and performances reaches its fittingly monumental conclusion. Taken as a whole, the cycle of studies is very revealing about the composer, and contains many outstanding examples of his most characteristic musical forms, structures, and preoccupations, and the final group is no exception. No.84 is the delicious "Tango Habanera", a splendid example of the "Spanish" works to which he returned repeatedly throughout his career, beginning with Quasi habanera in 1917, continuing with the ebullient, blazingly sun-scorched Fantaisie espagnole two years later, the much larger Fantasia ispanica of 1933, two separate transcriptions of Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole, and various other allusions to the Iberian style elsewhere in his output. This piece is as much of a sun-drenched, virtuoso delight as all the others. Up until the ravishingly beautiful nocturne study No.26 (on Vol.2), Sorabji had largely contented himself with writing more or less bona fide concert studies, if highly idiosyncratic ones, but after around No.40 he seems to have become more interested in the project as a collection of pieces in his various characteristic styles, and the size and frequency of the works that are far more varied than 'studies' increases dramatically - e.g. the waltz, chorale prelude, pedal point and passacaglia 'studies' - and this "Spanish" piece. Between this and the "finale" of the cycle - the final two studies - Sorabji returned to a group of short pieces of study-like dimensions, but quintessentially Sorabjian, as though as to say 'if you're going to presume to play my music you had better be entirely fluent in these techniques!'. These include four high velocity miniature toccatas, one with rapid-running semiquaver figuration accompanied by chords, one in polymodal scales punctuated by chordal anchors, one in sequences of rising semiquaver gestures, and one in rapid staccato chords; many 'preludes', 'intermezzi', 'cadenzas' and 'scherzi' throughout Sorabji’s œuvre use exactly these textures. There is a (very) miniature "tropical nocturne", and another that sounds like the meandering, mysterious and luminous chord sequences with which the composer was wont to punctuate those pieces, and some of these short works have a straightforward, uncomplicated humour or charm, in a very tonal idiom, as though to offer a period of relative repose before the final titanic section of the cycle. This is the "finale" of the whole work; a massive prelude and fugue, appropriately proportioned to a work lasting over eight hours in total. No.99 is subtitled "Nello stilo della fantasia cromatica di Giovanni Sebastiano", and the inspiration from this work, of which Sorabji thought so highly that he made a transcription of it, is very apparent, in the broadest terms (as it is in the case of a number of Sorabji’s prelude-toccata movements such as the one that begins the Toccata seconda (04V052). The quarter-hour piece begins with exuberant, scintillating scales, anchored by chordal interjections; as it progresses, the toccata-like material becomes more elaborate, the chordal pylons more imposing, and fully the final one-third of the piece consists of the uniquely Sorabjian sequence of improbable sequences of huge chords in a thrilling, expectations-defying sequence of keys (clavicembalistic missiles, in Prof. Paul Rapoport's wonderful phrase), separated by gigantic waves of ecstatically incandescent figuration. The "Coda-Finale. Fuga a cinque soggetti." is vast, lasting an hour. It is among the composer’s most perfectly judged fugue sequences for its cumulative effect through the entirety of its six sections, based on five subjects of strongly contrasting character. The first fugue's subject consists of intervallic gestures and scale fragments, lending itself to a discursive, sometimes serious, sometimes playful treatment in two voices, thoroughly worked out and very easy to follow, as is the lively second, three-voice fugue. The third, though, is more ominous and austere, and the fugal textures are more demanding, featuring an entangling flow of unpredictable triplet figuration throughout. Fugue 4, in five voices, is contrapuntally complex, abrupt, weighty, serious and dramatic. The last fugue is in six voices, based on a long, slow, undulating theme, gradually accumulating weight and texture over a long span, but rather than reaching its own climactic conclusion, it leads into the spectacular Coda-stretta. Fredrik Ullén can have the last word here, after 15 years of fantastically dedicated work on this remarkable cycle of pieces. "Occasionally, the music reaches such levels of density and informational overload that the architecture appears to collapse into itself in turbulent cadenzas. After the last of these apocalyptic whirlstorms the fugal themes finally join forces and ring out triumphantly in the coda, Pieno: largo e maestoso." Fredrik Ullén, piano.