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Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
The Complete Solo Piano Music
Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano, CD 1-5)
Pascal Rogé (piano, CD6), Jean-Philippe Collard (piano II, CD6), Chantal Juillet (CD6, violin)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk and Auditorium de Milano, Milan, 2001-2002 (CD1-5), St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 1996 (CD 6).
DECCA 483 0236 [6 CDs: 436:02]

We’ve seen quite a few new recordings of Erik Satie’s music in this anniversary year, but there is always space for some re-releasing and repackaging of good recordings from the past. Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s 5 CD Satie set first appeared in 2003, and this rather plainer looking new design can now be had at the bargain price of around £20.The original set was exceptional for its time in presenting the recently discovered by turns bluesy and dramatic seventh Gnossienne, though subsequent performers such as Jeroen van Veen of course include this and many of those other unpublished sketches left after the composer’s death.

I grew up with Aldo Ciccolini’s 1967-71 recordings and have kept a soft spot for them ever since, while acknowledging the improvements in recording quality to be found in more recent releases such as Thibaudet’s. The Sarabandes are tricky pieces to bring off, and as a litmus test I compared Thibaudet with Ciccolini. An air of reverent mystery in the quieter music is essential to my mind, heightening those fanfare extremes of dynamic. It is sometimes hard to put one’s finger on where such intangibles can be found but Ciccolini’s intuition is hard to fault, and I was surprised to find his 2ème Sarabande coming in at 3:37 to Thibaudet’s rather laboured 6:13. The same goes for the 3ème Sarabande, with Thibaudet making too much of a meal of those ‘raindrop’ descending notes and again bringing us home about 3 and a half minutes after Ciccolini has cast his spell and moved on. As if to hammer this point home, Pascal Rogé also shows ‘how it should be done’ in the bonus disc with this set.

I’d rather not have any complaints at all than have to moan on about arguably suspect and indeed rather subjective details. There are indeed few if any problems with favourites such as the Gymnopédies, and the Gnossiennes are also very fine in their elegant simplicity. Matters of taste will again dictate if you appreciate Thibaudet’s rather dry and arch manner with the Petite ouverture à danser. Ciccolini’s version is exactly the same duration, but manages to pack a good deal more expression into his rubati.

I don’t plan on doing a huge piece-for-piece comparison. The pieces in Thibaudet’s set are usefully divided into various periods and themes, a couple of repetitions of Vexations sufficing amongst the Rosicrucian pieces, and CD 2 rounded off with characterful Café-concert and Music Hall favourites such as Je te veux played with style and panache rather than real joy and abandon. There are added surprises such as the adaptation by Darius Milhaud of Cinéma, Satie’s film music for a ballet interlude and declared as his final work. CD 4 contains ‘Fanciful Works’ with those odd titles such as Embryons desséchés and Préludes flasques pour un chien. Thibaudet’s playing is of course very good, but I feel it often lacks playfulness and and the kind of gently eccentric irony which Satie seems to have intended. Take the last little piece of the latter set, Avec camaraderie, which should be a light ditty but is taken very seriously indeed in this version. I hate to hark back to Ciccolini the whole time, but his frolicksome 0:42 is a shock after Thibaudet’s expressionistic 1:35 – geriatric dogs indeed.

Another piece I like to refer to as a litmus test is the Prélude de “La Porte: héroïque du Ciel” and it is here that Thibaudet’s grander touch can come into its own. I sampled Olof Höjer’s version from his complete edition on the Swedish Society label, and this rather superficial account shows where Thibaudet’s exploration of resonance and more organ-like but restrained expansiveness can carry us into exotic realms. Even so, with most versions coming in at somewhere over three minutes, the 10:46 traversal here might be considered a little over the top. This, by the way, is followed by a Jack in the Box that shows where Jean-Yves Thibaudet can put in a rousingly bouncy and up-tempo performance when he wants to.

The sixth CD is a marvellous bonus with four-handed pieces, Pascal Rogé forming a superb partnership with Jean-Phillipe Collard and giving some fine solo performances and proving a clincher if you are in dubio – this extra is almost worth the price of the entire set on its own.

Well recorded, this is a collection that is well worth having, but is by no means the last word, when it comes to Erik Satie’s piano music. Musically I still prefer Aldo Ciccolini’s now rather antique 1960s set, which I hope will become more easily available if the EMI France masters can be re-released in a budget box by Warner. Comparing via a streaming service it would seem Jeroen van Veen’s set on Brilliant Classics is an intriguing prospect, though you will have to go along with his ‘slow music’ view of some of the pieces. Klára Körmendi’s Naxos set from the early 1990s is actually rather fine, and if you are happy with downloads, these and others are worth sampling to seek out those that inspire. I would love to have been able to recommend Jean-Yves Thibaudet without hesitation, but there are enough pieces lacking that wit, fun and quirkily poetic élan holding back a 100% positive review. There is plenty to make you want to keep coming back for more, but this is a set studded with jewels rather than encrusted with them.

Dominy Clements

CD 1 [79:57]
Sarabandes (1887) [18:14]
Gymnopédies (1888) [10:10]
5ème Gnossienne (1889) [3:51]
Trois Gnossiennes (1890) [10:26]
4ème Gnossienne (1891) [3:36]
6ème Gnossienne (1897) [1:49]
7ème Gnossienne (1891) [4:51]
Petite Ouverture à danser (1897) [1:12]
Pièces froides (1897) [12:41]
The dreamy fish Ou Le Poisson Rêveur (1901) [5:29]
The Angora Ox (1904) [7:42]

CD 2 [80:00]
Allegro (1884) [0:18]
Valse-Ballet (1887) [1:42]
Fantaisie-Valse (1887) [2:01]
Fête Donnée Par Des Chevaliers Normands En L’Honneur D’une Jeune Demoiselle (Xième Siècle) (1889?) [3:56]
Ogives (1889) [11:44]
Première Pensée Rose Croix (1891) [1:09]
Leit-motiv du “Panthée” (1891) [0:47]
Sonneries de la Rose Croix (1892) [16:01]
Danses gothiques (1893) [12:41]
Vexations (1893) [3:38]
Modéré (1893) [1:08]
Verset laîque & somptueux (1900) [1:11]
Je te veux (1897-1904) [5:11]
Tendrement (1902) [3:43]
Poudre d’or (1902) [4:27]
Stand-Walk (La Diba de “L’Empire”) (1904, arr. Hans Ourdine) [2:14]
Le “Piccadilly” (1904) [1:32]
Légende californienne (1905, arr. Andrew Cornall) [1:34]
La belle Excentrique (1920, arr. Erik Satie) [5:03]

CD 3 [73:14]
Passacaille (1906) [2:45]
Prélude en tapisserie (1906) [3:41]
Nouvelles Pièces froides (1907) [6:38]
Fâcheux exemple (1908) [0:48]
Désespoir agréable (1908) [0:35]
Effronterie (1909) [1:47]
Poésie (1909) [0:42]
Profondeur (1909) [1:17]
Songe-creux (1909) [1:25]
Le Prisonnier maussade (1909) [0:34]
“Le grand Singe” (1909) [0:28]
Douze petits Chorals (1906-1908) [8:41]
Prélude canin (1912) [0:46]
Arrière-propos (1912) [0:36]
L’Enfance de Ko-Quo (1913) [2:19]
(Trois Nouvelles Enfantines) (1913) [2:16]
Menus Propos enfantins (1913) [2:50]
Enfantillages pittoresques (1913) [3:33]
Peccadilles importunes (1913) [2:45]
Nocturnes (1919) [13:26]
Premier Menuet (1920) [1:57]
Rêverie de l’Enfance de Pantagruel (1920) [1:48]
Cinéma (1924) [9:51]

CD 4 [76:36]
Préludes flasques pour un chien (1912) [5:10]
Véritables Préludes flasques pour un chien (1912) [2:47]
Descriptions automatiques (1913) [5:13]
Embryons desséchés (1913) [6:42]
Croquis & agaceries d’un gros bonhomme en bois (1913) [5:05]
Chapitres tournés en tous sens (1913) [5:56]
Vieux Sequins & Vieilles Cuirasses (1913) [4:52]
Sports & divertissements (1914) [15:23]
Heures séculaires & instantanées (1914) [3:54]
Les trois Valses distinguées du précieux dégoûté (1914) [2:38]
Avant-dernières Pensées (1915) [3:46]
Sonatine bureaucratique (1917) [3:16]
Préludes Du “Fils Des Étoiles” (1891) [11:53]

CD 5 [72:45]
Prélude du “Nazaréen” (1892) [12:31]
Prélude d’Eginhard (1892) [2:54]
Uspud (Ballet Chrétien en 3 Actes) (1892) [27:36]
Prélude de “La Porte: héroïque du Ciel” (1894) [10:46]
Jack in the Box (1899, arr. D. Milhaud) [5:44]
Prélude de “La Mort de Monsieur Mouche” (1900) [1:14]
Chanson andalouse (pour “Pousse l’Amour) 1906) [1:35]
Sept toutes petites Danses pour “Le Piège de Méduse” (1913) [3:12]
Les Pantins dansent (1913) [1:33]
Cinq Grimaces (pour “Le Songe d’une Nuit d’Été) (1929) [3:39]
Rag-Time Parade (1917) [2:06]

CD 6 [63:30]
Trois Morceaux en forme de porer (1903)* [14:30]
Parade (1917)* [11:30]
Troisième Sarabande (1887) [5:36]
La belle Excentrique (1922)* [9:19]
Aperçus désagréables (1908, 1912)* [5:08]
From: Six Pièces de la période 1906-1913
Désespoir agréable (1908)* [1:00]
Songe-Creux (c.1909) [1:54]
En habit de cheval (1911)* [5:39]
Trois Petites Pièces montées (1919)* [4:03]
Choses vues à droite et à gauche (sans lunettes) (1914)† [4:37]

* Jean-Philippe Collard (piano II)
† Chantal Juillet (violin)



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