Sorabji: 100 Transendental Studies: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

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COMPOSERS: Sorabji
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Sorabji
WORKS: 100 Transendental Studies: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
PERFORMER: Fredrik Ullen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1373
Kaikhosru Sorabji’s Transcendental Etudes, composed in 1940-44, number 100 and last, we are told, seven hours in all. Fredrik Ullén here presents the world premiere recording of the first 25, in what is promised as Volume I of a complete set. For those whose admiration of Sorabji’s extravagant brilliance in moment-to-moment keyboard writing is tempered by the sheer length of his polyphonic or rhapsodic forms, this disc may in fact be the ideal introduction to his art. The Transcendental Etudes are quite recognisably studies in specific pianistic issues, in a tradition stretching back through Godowsky, Scriabin, Liszt and Chopin, but approached with all Sorabji’s sovereign disregard for physical and technical limits. None is longer than six minutes, some less than a minute; they’re well varied, continuously diverting and inventive; and in movements like No. 18, they rise to great and gorgeous piano music.

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Ullén, whose impressive recording of the Ligeti Etudes must have been a useful preparation for this labour of love, expounds Sorabji’s with utter textural clarity and jaw-dropping virtuosity. His notes are a model of helpfulness, too, though his claim that No. 10 is ‘à la Scriabin’ ignores its real and audible model in Busoni’s last piano work, the Etude en arpèges. Heartily recommended.

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Calum MacDonald