Sorabji: Songs for Soprano (complete)

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LABELS: Centaur
WORKS: Songs for Soprano (complete)
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Farnum (soprano)Margaret Kampmeier (piano)
Notorious for his Brobdingnagian piano works, many hours long and of mind-numbing difficulty (most famous of all being Opus clavicembalisticum), Kaikhosru Sorabji was also an adept miniaturist. At the start of his extraordinary career, around 1915-20, he wrote many songs, plus a few later, almost all for soprano and mostly to French texts. (His mother was a professional singer; he himself was a connoisseur of the soprano voice and a friend of Blanche Marchesi, among other famous names.)


By turns languid, ecstatic, capricious and texturally and harmonically spangled, the 20 songs on this disc, premiere recordings all, display a gifted songwriter whose rapidly forming style fits intelligibly into the company of such contemporary post-impressionist exotics as Scriabin, Szymanowski, Ornstein or Cyril Scott. Sorabji’s favoured poets – Baudelaire, Dowson, Mallarmé, Verlaine, Louÿs – are pretty solidly fin de siècle, but his treatment of them borders at times on the Expressionist. The fantastic filigree of his piano parts will intermittently turn to a dancing mock-Baroque directness, as in the ‘Dernière fête galante’ from his last set of songs, written in 1941. The piano tone on Centaur’s recording is sometimes a bit thin, and Elizabeth Farnum shows occasional strain in some of the cruelly high-lying passages in Sorabji’s intricate and wayward vocal lines, but this is a very rewarding disc of totally unknown, highly individual and often very beautiful music. Calum MacDonald