SORABJI: Un Nido di scatole; Djamî; St. Bertrand de Comminges (He was Laughing in the Tower) – Jonathan Powell, piano – Altarus

by | Feb 13, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SORABJI: Un Nido di scatole; Djamî; St. Bertrand de Comminges (He was Laughing in the Tower) – Jonathan Powell, piano – Altarus AIR-CD-9082, 60:12 **** [Distr. by Albany]:

Powell has been bring us the amazing piano works of Sorabji on Altarus for some time now. The opening work here, in 17 short sections, was dedicated to one of the few pianists during the composer’s life who played his music in public with his approval.  If you’re new to the wonders of Sorabji, let’s say he is at the opposite pole from composers of brevity such as Satie or Webern.  He spins out elephantine Persian-ornamented epics on the piano which pack more notes per second than imaginable. All those 88 keys get more than their due in every work! Un Nido can be translated as “A Nest of Boxes,” and the little caprices could be compared to Schumann’s Carnaval. Something unique about this suite is Sorabji’s often humorous headings for some of the pieces.  For example: “A bit religious, but without any hypocrisy;” “Reasons for not going to concerts;” “Arabesques in the form of scales (You must be joking!);” “With the elephantine grace of an English orchestra playing a Strauss Waltz;” and “Like a kitchen machine.”

Djami of 1928 is a nocturne “in the hothouse-languourous genre…a thoroughly poisonous unhealthy corrupt fleur-du-mal of a piece…” – those are the composer’s own descriptions of it!  The closing piece is based on a ghost story by M.R. James.  St. Bertrand is an actual medieval church high in the Pyrenees which has not only a variety of architectural styles from the 11th thru the 16th centuries, but many grotesque carvings and details – such as a stuffed crocodile hanging on one of its walls. The piece is not programmatic as such, but attempts to create the mood of the ghostly place and story, using liturgical chorales as well as that favorite spooky theme, the Dies irae. The 18-minute St. Bertrand – shorter, not quite as excessive, and more accessible than much of the composer’s works – would make a good introduction to Sorabji.  Powell’s performances and the disc’s sonics seem without faults.

 – John Sunier

Related Reviews