Jonathan Powell

Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji: Concerto per suonare da me solo

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Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji: Concerto per suonare da me solo Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

There aren't very many piano concertos out there for piano alone. The logic behind such a lopsided and seemingly self-contradictory formal concept is that the soloist undertakes both the solo part and the orchestral tutti on the same instrument; it goes back at least to Johann Sebastian Bach and his Italian Concerto. Kaikhosru Sorabji's point of departure in composing the Concerto per suonare da me solo in 1946 seems to have been the Concerto for Piano Solo in G sharp minor Op. 39/8-10 of Charles-Valentin Alkan. Like the Alkan, Sorabji's solo concerto is dense, extremely busy, insanely difficult, and very long, only more so in all instances; the only pianists to take it up thus far had been Yonty Solomon, Sorabji himself, and Jonathan Powell here on Altarus' Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji: Concerto per suonare da me solo.

The individual movements of this concerto are long enough to serve as concertos on their own, averaging out to 22 minutes apiece. Powell's performance is extremely impressive; a glance at the score inset in the inlay of the disc tray gives one pause at the thicket of accidentals and the extreme complexity of the left hand part, scored on two staves. One wonders how Powell can even read this music, let alone play it with as much dexterity and musicality as he does here. Nevertheless, this is music for the few, not the many -- while the Adagio movement has some mystical gestures in its favor that are reminiscent of Scriabin's late sonatas, the harmonic profile of the concerto is extremely tough, though the overall mood and development scheme of the piece is based in post-Romantic music. The outer movements are strongly declamatory in the manner normally associated with the Romantic piano concerto, packed with Lisztian flourishes and bravado, albeit in a highly dissonant style. Those who dare will find much to enjoy here, but admittedly, even expert ears will find this concerto much cozier the second time around than the first, so alien and otherworldly is the idiom.

Sorabji, interestingly enough, viewed this concerto as being the best overall introduction to his work. Its lengthiness and forbidding toughness seem to put this notion to the test; certain others among his pieces, such as Gulistan, Le jardin parfumé, and selections from his 100 Transcendental Études seem like better candidates for that distinction, owing to their relative concision and more obvious exotic appeal. For Sorabji's hardcore fans, this will be like manna from heaven, but for the uninitiated, it will be as dense as the matter in a black hole -- you cannot hold it in your hand, and a pinpoint-sized piece of it will drop through the Earth and just keep going.

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