Elizabeth Farnum / Margaret Kampmeier KAIKHOSRU SHAPURJI SORABJI The Complete Songs for Soprano

Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988) may remain an outwardly formidable and eccentric figure, but his music, with its heady transformation of past exotic idioms into a bewildering alternation of excess and economy, is a marvel of inventiveness, appealing notably to those whose taste runs to music at once serious and exotic. 
Son of a Spanish-Sicilian mother and a Parsee father, Sorabji was celebrated for his polemical outbursts and opinions. Yet beneath the mask of his extravagance (‘Ravel, like Alexander Pope, is full of cocktail cretinisms’) he possessed a penetrating, witty, if frequently mischief-making, mind. Musical aphorisms (the final Arabesque on this delectable disc) alternate with works lasting several hours and his writing can be so intricate that it spreads its tendrils over as many as seven staves. Small wonder that it is only recently that Sorabji’s mysterious star has started to shine. 
Remarkably, Elizabeth Farnum and Margaret Kampmeier’s disc of the complete songs for soprano and piano is a world première recording and it would be hard to imagine a more persuasive case made for music too often dismissed as a specialist taste. The majority of the songs are in French – some are in English – and both artists declare their labour of love in every spine-tingling bar. The influence of Debussy is paramount in the earliest songs. ‘Crepuscule de soir mystique’ from Trois poèmes, for example, remembers the Etude ‘Pour les quatres’, while ‘Pantomime’ from the same set recalls the same composer’s magical setting of Verlaine’s Green. Chrysilla plunges from assurance to despair while L’heure exquise lovingly reworks ‘La lune blanche’ from Fauré’s La bonne chanson.
Poems that take a Swinburnian excess to extremes (‘the wild rose covers itself in the perfumed blood of its dye/And that the virgin, blushing with happiness,/Brings her crown and her heart to the arms of her beloved’), and the darkness of L’étang, are somehow magically cleansed of self-indulgence by both artists, such is their style and refinement. 
Elizabeth Farnum is a richly versatile singer who offers heartfelt thanks to all who made this very demanding and elusive project possible and it is no surprise to find that Margaret Kampmeier won the 1995 Naumberg Chamber Music Award. Both artists sing and play as one and they have been beautifully balanced and recorded. It would have been good to have the original French poems printed alongside Charles Hopkins’ more than helpful translations but any possible complaint in that department is balanced by an outstanding essay by Alistair Hinton, curator of The Sorabji Archive. (Bryce Morrison / Gramophone)

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