Friday, June 24, 2016

Sorabji, 100 Transcendental Studies, Nos 72-83, Fredrik Ullen

The latest volume of Kaikhosru Sorabji (1892-1988) and his monumental 100 Transcendental Studies (Nos 72-83) (BIS 2223) is upon us. Eventually pianist Fredrik Ullen will be recording all 100 of the cycle. This latest installment gets us most of the way there. I've covered an earlier volume on these pages (look up the review in the index box if you would like to read that). My exposure continues here, I am happy to say.

There is no easy way to characterize the cycle, except to say that it is phenomenally difficult music to play, that it has the DIY exploratory expression of Sorabji's piano music in evidence with all kinds of twists and turns, and that it is one of the 20th century's most daring and exhaustive cycles, a masterpiece of technical-expressionist modernism with some incredible rhythmic and melodic-harmonic complexities and a great variety of approaches that relate sometimes to one another, sometimes to other piano repertoire, and to a complete gamut of personalized style possibilities.

We get in this volume for example a theme with 100 variations (75), a perpetuum mobile (77), an impressionistic tone poem (78), a study in fourths (83) and a maelstrom of accentuated gestures set against a whirlwind of notes (82). All 100 were written between 1940 and 1944, but this is music that seems to go beyond time, embracing a kind of eccentric modernism that gives us a Sorabji for our present-day sensibilities, beyond his own time surely, yet also paradoxically filled with the gigantism-expression of the late romantic era and the ultra-progressivity that flourished then in spite of the social traumas that were ripping the world apart.

Fredrick Ullen is a pianist endowed with the considerable technical acuity these works demand, but also the poetic imagination that is always key to Sorabji's music. He is the ultimate Sorabji interpreter, surely, or one of the primary ones at any rate.

The superb performances match the daring and iconoclastic music one-for-one. These are thrilling works, played with fire and commitment. Should you get all 100? If you can swing it, based on the installments I have heard. Meanwhile this is a great volume to start with. Very highly recommended.

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