Another huge Sorabji premiere on disc, and a must-hear recording for virtuoso pianophiles.
The Toccata seconda for piano (1933-34) belongs to an extraordinarily fertile decade in Sorabji’s creative life that saw the composition of a series of gigantic works, from Opus Clavicembalisticum to the Symphonic Variations and Tāntrik Symphony for solo piano. At ‘merely’ two and half hours in duration, the Toccata is more modestly scaled than these works, but still a composition of ambitious scope, which has had to wait for a new generation of Sorabji performers – the Spanish Abel Sánchez-Aguilera foremost among them – to be introduced to audiences beyond the coterie of Sorabji devotees.
Reflecting in both its title and its style the composer’s enduring love of Bach, the Toccata seconda consists of nine movements taking inspiration from several Baroque genres: not only the toccata itself but also chorale prelude, passacaglia, fugue, free fantasies and fast sections in perpetual motion style, which are braided with Sorabji’s idiosyncratic slow movements - in this case, a ‘tropical’ nocturne and polyphonic aria.
In fact the Toccata is an admirable synthesis of Sorabji’s style, distilled into a relatively compact format. The balanced alternation of contrasting movements of moderate length, the variety of mood and form, the emphasis on melody and lyricism, the transparent textures in spite of the great pianistic challenges, all make this work particularly approachable to the listener and an excellent introduction to Sorabji’s large-scale works.
A distinguished biochemist turned pianist, Abel Sánchez-Aguilera has given performances of Scriabin’s complete sonatas, the Spanish première of Sorabji’s Toccata seconda and the first performance of this work in the UK since its prèmiere in 1936. This album joins Jonathan Powell’s recent recording of the monumental Sequentia Cyclica (PCL10206) and Lukas Huisman in the Symphonic Nocturne (PCLD0119) as significant contributions to the Sorabji discography on Piano Classics.
Khaikosru Sorabji (1892-1988) is one of the most enigmatic and controversial 20-th century composers. Largely self-taught he chose his own way, never fitting into any school or movement, his style is highly idiosyncratic, inspired by late-romantics like Busoni and Szymanowski. Characteristic for his piano music are the enormous proportions and textural density of his works, some of them lasting several hours in performance, taxing the performer and audience to the utmost.
Sorabji shared with several composers of the older generation (particularly Busoni and Reger) a deep admiration for the music of J.S.Bach and an interest in the revival of Baroque forms, adapted to the modern aesthetics and idioms. This resulted in numerous piano transcriptions of Bach’s works and, on the other hand, in adopting traditional compositional procedures such as the variation (passacaglia, chorale prelude) and the fugue. Within this context, Busoni and Sorabji also produced innovative examples of multisectional toccatas. Sorabji regarded Busoni’s Toccata: Preludio, Fantasia, Ciaccona as one of the most significant works of his time and as the main model for his own toccatas.
Toccata seconda consists of nine movements representing Sorabji's favourite genres: forms of Baroque inspiration (chorale prelude, passacaglia, fugue), free fantasies and fast sections in perpetual motion style, and his idiosyncratic slow movements ("tropical" nocturne and polyphonic aria). It is therefore an admirable synthesis of Sorabji's style, distilled into a relatively compact format.
Spanish pianist Abel Sánchez-Aguilera is one of Spain’s foremost interpreters of 20th century music. He won First prize in the 2015 Scriabin Competition in Salzburg. He has given performances of Scriabin's complete sonatas, the Spanish première of Sorabji’s Toccata seconda and the first performance of this work in the UK since its prèmiere in 1936. He has prepared critical editions of several of Sorabji's unpublished manuscripts (Piano Symphonies nos. 0, 1 and 3).