Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
3 Sarabandes (1887)
3 Gymnopédies (1889)
Gnossiennes 1-3 (1890)
Gnossiennes 4-6 (1889-1897)
2 Préludes du Nazaréen (1892)
Prélude de la Porte Héroique du Ciel (1894)
2 Pièces Froides (1897)
Petite Ouverture à Danser (1900)
Håkan Austbø, piano
Recorded in Remonstrantse Gemeente, Deventer, Netherlands, 10th-11th May and 30th June-1st July 1999.
From Brilliant Classics

The Norwegian Håkan Austbø has, as aficionados of his Messiaen discs for Naxos will appreciate, impeccable credentials in the French piano repertoire. This bargain reissue of material recorded, only three years ago, for the Arts Music label, is a very welcome addition to the bulging catalogue of Satie's music. I can take or leave this composer's "iconoclastic" ballets but the piano music is something else again. The Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes are widely known and recorded (and justifiably so!). However, I take particular delight from the sheer number of lesser known but often even more essential pieces discs such as this and, say, John White's for Arte Nova, throw up.

For those who know only the aforementioned and celebrated pieces, I would say that Satie's piano music is generally, perhaps contrary to the popular image of the composer, simple but profound, often deeply melancholy but in a spare and devotional sense rather than a wallowing one, and always desperately, achingly beautiful. The only contemporary composer who comes anywhere close, for this listener, is Howard Skempton. This recording is up there with the recent greats - apart from White, Rogé and Lenehan (the latter despite an unsympathetic recording) stand out. Beyond that we are back to the authoritative recordings by Dickinson and McCabe.

Apart from his idiomatic readings of the best known works (the Gnossiennes are particularly distinguished), Austbø offers us the Sarabandes and the Préludes du Nazaréen, the first of which is an austere and haunting masterpiece. After the Prélude de la Porte Héroique du Ciel, which is less portentous than the title might suggest, the recital ends with the brief Pièces Froides and the wistful Petite Ouverture à Danser.

This is an excellent disc, especially when offered at such a low price, but I would strongly advise anyone who enjoys it to purchase John White's recording as well (5.99 or less). There is a little overlap but White includes much more of the Rosicrucian music which, I would suggest, gives a greater insight into the real Satie (and his esoteric orientation). White provides a valuable contrast to the received wisdom of Satie as vaudeville eccentric, a view to which a casual listen to the orchestral works might well lend credence. The only criticism I would make of this CD is that documentation seems to have been sacrificed in favour of presentation - slipcase or "sleevenotes", I know which I would prefer!

Neil Horner

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