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Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Parade (1917) [15:28]
Trois Gymnopédies (orch. Debussy and Corp) (1896) [8:53]
Mercure (1924) [12:16]
Trois Gnossiennes (orch. Corp) (1890) [7:33]
Relâche (1924) [21:31]
New London Orchestra/Ronald Corp
rec. April 1989


Experience Classicsonline

You might not think, offhand, of Erik Satie as a pivotal figure in music history. His style had no clear followers, or imitators. He didn't blaze a clear trail - which of course puts him in excellent company, beside Scriabin and Debussy. Still, I hear echoes of Satie's strained experiments in musical Surrealism in his French successors: in Poulenc's boulevardier wit and brittle ironies, and Ibert's more raucous pops sound.

The ballet Parade, sporting as it does a whistle, a ratchet, a police siren, and a typewriter among the "instruments," helped fix the public image of Satie as a sort of overgrown enfant terrible. In this performance, conductor Ronald Corp adopts a novel interpretive approach to the score: he plays it strictly for musical values! The various extra-musical sound-effects with which the composer outfitted this "Cubist" ballet - designed by Picasso and choreographed by Massine - are almost all integrated into the musical texture as fresh additional colours although the gunshots do remain a distraction, truth be told. As for the "normal" orchestral sounds, the opening chorale is crisply attacked, yet soft-edged in definition; the searching string lines are clean and warm; and the rhythms have just the right amount of lift. 

The other two ballet scores benefit from similar care. Mercure begins cheerfully, despite ominous under-linings, with Golliwoggish syncopations and pointillistic bursts of variegated color; quieter subsequent dances are thoughtful and atmospheric. Relâche, Satie's last stage work, is playful and mildly cheeky. Contrasts within the texture - as between the elegant violins and galumphing basses in the Entrée de la femme - are acknowledged without overkill, while tuttis sound full and well-organized. 

Separating the ballets are groups of Satie's piano pieces in orchestral guise. The better-known Gymnopédies receive spacious, flowing performances. Corp's clean, poised rendition of the first, in Debussy's orchestration, removes some of the spurious Romantic patina it's acquired elsewhere. Corp's own arrangement of the second uses the same forces to more vibrant effect, while he plays up the chill of the flute-and-horn combinations in Debussy's version of the third. If these identifications confuse you, that's because Satie's number one and three became Debussy's number two and one respectively - don't ask. 

The three Gnossiennes, all orchestrated by Corp, are equally appealing in their echoes of older musical models. The cool, clear flute and oboe lines of the first Gnossienne suggest Classical grace, with the "echoing" harp solo reinforcing a sense of distanced nostalgia. In the second piece, the oboist has a wonderful sense of the varying rhythms, shaping the phrases unerringly. The harp returns to prominence in the third piece, contributing, along with the harmonic-minor progressions, to the antique effect. 

The New London Orchestra plays handsomely and with style. The recurring prominence of the brass, particularly the solo trumpet, within textures that don't immediately suggest them is what gives these scores their café-music flavour. The brass playing here is marvellous, whether in carefully pointed solos or full-throated, balanced chords. As is usually the case with this ensemble on disc, the woodwind soloists - rich, vibrant, and nuanced - are outstanding; their bright, clean edge recalling an authentic "French" timbre. I suspect the strings are short-staffed - they can be a bit grainy, or insubstantial, when playing softly - but they sound lovely when playing out, especially in the mid-range. 

Gorgeous sound reproduction makes this an essential acquisition, especially at midpriced status.

Stephen Francis Vasta 



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