By far the largest collection of concert études in the known repertoire, Kaikhosru Sorabji’s set of 100 Transcendental Studies, composed between 1940 and 1944, has a total duration of more than eight hours. On five previous discs, the Swedish pianist (and neuroscientist) Fredrik Ullén has introduced the first 83 études to a wider audience, the large majority of them appearing on disc for the first time. Now, 15 years after the release of the first volume comes the final instalment, a 2-disc set with the last 17 studies. In his own liner notes, Ullén describes the experience of learning and recording the collection: ‘From the F sharp minor of Study 1 to the F sharp minor chord concluding Study 100: traversing Sorabji’s Transcendental Studies has been somewhat like joining a comet following a long eccentric orbit through pianistic outer space, and finally returning back to mother earth.’ Most of the studies are typical concert études in the sense that they essentially explore a single technical or structural idea. But especially towards the end of the cycle Sorabji includes pieces that are on a much larger scale, a tendency that culminates with the two final études. Quasi fantasia (No. 99) is a hugely expanded elaboration of J.S. Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and is followed by the almost hour-long Coda-Finale, a quintuple fugue of staggering complexity. Besides the programme notes by Fredrik Ullén, the booklet includes texts by Kenneth Derus and Alistair Hinton who both knew the composer.
Listen to the very first track, where a tango rhythm quickly devolves into a series of very tricky cross-rhythms, for an idea of the challenges facing Ullén. He has surmounted them admirably, and his deliberate approach to these pieces has paid off. He gets the attractiveness of the Studies as a way into the work of Sorabji, who has been admired by many and equally often critically dismissed. Sorabji is not for everyone, but he is for more listeners here than elsewhere.
– AllMusicGuide.com (James Manheim)