Eric SATIE (1866-1925)
Complete Piano Works
MANDALA MAN 4975/79 5CDs
How thrilling to have nearly all of Satie's piano works in this five-volume
boxed set! How disappointing to hear Jean-Pierre Armengaud's sporadic renditions.
To its credit, the set sports an inventive organizational scheme. The discs
are grouped thematically, such as Famous Pieces and First Recordings, and
Surrealistic and Childish Pieces. I enjoyed hearing Allegro and
Petite Sonate for the first time. Like their subject, the liner notes
are quirky and inconsistent. Sometimes they're entertaining with cute drawings
and strange photographs, other times they're annoyingly impressionistic.
Most of this set is destined for my archives. I just can't get excited about
Armengaud's style. It's too colourless, too grey. To be fair, he wears several
shades of grey: the impassive slate grey of his Pièces Froides
and the almost-not-there grey of his Quatres Préludes.
Perhaps he took Satie's famous comment about "furniture music" too literally.
Not just an impish composer, the composer produced pieces of sinuous subtlety.
Armengaud has trouble finding it. In Surrealistic and Childish Pieces, he
should be filling the fissures of Péccadilles Importunes with
moody pastels instead of slow and fast, loud and soft. In some pieces, his
playing displays technical ineptitude. In the finale to
Jack-in-the-Box, Armengaud has trouble negotiating the tricky tempo
changes, while Aldo Ciccolini (EMI Seraphim CDR 73705 ) blithely dances through
them with his spirited rendition. Armengaud's rubato is virtually absent
in his Pièces froides: Trois danses de travers, while
Pascal Rogé (London 421 713-2) consumes this piece as if nibbling
a Napoleon on the Champs Elysées. Armengaud's interpretations pick
up in Volume Five, Complete Works for Piano Duet. With Merlet sparking him
along, we hear a spirited and variegated Parade and the whimsically
off-centre Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire. The two produce a charming
La Belle Excentrique, prancing vulgarly across the stage, especially
in the two Grande ritournelles. Sometimes they even convey Satie's
infatuation for ragtime. Too bad this Frenchman doesn't inject more
élan into Satie's works.