Album Title: Erik Satie Avant-dernières Pensées
Performers: Alexandre Tharaud (piano) and friends
Label and #: Harmonia Mundi HMC 902017.18 (2 CDs)
Running time: 63'50"/63'07"
Recorded: April/May 2008
I thought I'd never need another Satie recording. I am perfectly satisfied with Jean-Yves Thibaudet's complete solo album [Decca 473620-2] and the piano four-hand selection by Jean-Philippe Collard and Pascal Rogé [Decca 455401-2]. Looking further back, Jean-Pierre Armengaud's timeless single disc [Le Chant du Monde LDC 278.805] is one that I always treasure. And of course, the many EMI releases by Aldo Ciccolini/Gabriel Tacchino also add nice touches to the mix. No, I don't need another Satie recording. After all, it's only Satie, you know.
|Think again what you think you know about Satie. Does Heures secularise et instantanées (Age-old and instantaneous hours) occur to you as a French invention of minimalism? And Piccadilly the first ragtime by a French composer? Traces of Gottschalkian Latin dance rhythm are obvious in Gambades. And the mischievous Rossinian play-on-themes in the Embryons desséchés (Desiccated Embryos) prematurely adopted other composers' intellectual properties like Chopin's Funeral March and turned them into dry musical humour. The blatant display of Parisian ballroom glamour in Valse-Ballet and Poudre d'or (Gold Dust) is so unlike Satie and his Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes. Talking about these ancient dances so undeniably Satie, Tharaud picked only one Gymnopédie and spread six Gnossiennes throughout the entire disc. I admire his clean, sensible touch and well-justified tempi, particularly the No.1 which is slightly faster than norm and therefore more fluid and spiritually cleansed; and the No.4 which is slower than the norm and therefore more mesmerizing in tone color. To sample Tharaud's Gnossienne No.1, watch it here.
The Duos disc embarks on three sets of four-handed piano pieces with Tharaud and Éric Le Sage, ranging from the theatrical Le Belle Excentrique and Cinéma (transcribed by Milhaud) to the satirical Trois Morceaux en forme de poire (Three pieces in the Form of Pear) which in fact comprise seven pieces in total as Satie's disdainful response to Debussy's suggestion that he should pay more attention to musical forms. The four café songs were sung by Tharaud's friend Juliette. Her unpolished yet candid tone give these unpretentious numbers a real breath of life. Tenor Jean Delescluse on the other hand demonstrates in seven short art songs that Satie was quite capable of writing beautiful melodies with Schubertian finesse.
German violinist Isabelle Faust won my vote with her sublime Beethoven concerto years ago and here reconfirms her artistic versatility with Chosevues à droite et à gauche sans lunettes (Things seen to right and to left without glasses). This wickedly sardonic set starts off emulating classical and romantic disciplines in a matter-of-fact manner but suddenly turns around to poke the establishment in the eye. You'll get the idea even from these spoofing titles: "Choral hypocrite", "Fugue à tâtons" (Groping Fugue) and "Fantasie musulaire". Faust and Tharaud are so unequivocally ouch that it must have hurt.
Admittedly all the other Satie recordings I've heard are excellent. But somehow Tharaud managed to find his own particular way to outshine them. I don't necessarily agree with the liner notes saying that Satie has been misunderstood or even misheard and now deserves a more serious listening. Reading too much into something simple and beautiful as Satie is not necessarily the correct approach to understand let alone re-evaluate the man. Tharaud's re-interpretation is not necessarily deeper than other but it does evoke more feelings. Coupled with Harmonia Mundi's recording team that is always faithful to music and truthful to audio, this is definitely the Satie collection to capture our highest accolade.
P.S. I almost overlooked the bonus tracks. On the back cover of the CD booklet, there's a private access code for streaming and downloading six bonus tracks from here.