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Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
The Velvet Gentleman
Gymnopédie No. 1 [2:18]
Gymnopédie No. 2 [2:18]
Gymnopédie No. 3 [1:50]
Ragtime Parade [2:36]
Gnossienne No. 1 [2:47]
Gnossienne No. 4 [2:11]
Gnossienne No. 5 [2:47]
Sonatine Bureaucratique [3:27]
Passacaille [2:10]
Nocturne No. 1 [3:09]
Je te veux – valse [4:47]
Gnossienne No. 2 [1:51]
Gnossienne No. 3 [2:06]
Le Piège de Méduse [3:16]
Rêverie du Pauvre [3:43]
Valse-Ballet [2:01]
Pièces Froides [6:46]
Chapitres Tournés en tous sens [4:09]
Nocturne No. 3 [2:43]
Nocturne No. 5 [2:02]
Avant Dernières Pensées [2:51]
Sports et Divertissements [11:47]
Cinq Grimaces [3:14]
John McCabe (piano)
rec. 1980. ADD
REGIS RRC 1227 [77:00]  

This Regis disc of piano works by Satie has been compiled and remastered from two earlier Saga discs. It contains most of the well-known keyboard works of Satie and a few works, which, for some listeners, may not be as familiar.
 
Sadly, the two different Saga recordings are absolutely poles apart. On the first recording the sound itself is perhaps a little too close and is particularly lacking in warmth and depth, with a resultant ‘tinny’ quality. Also, on each track the very substantial background hiss is introduced immediately and abruptly just as the piano starts, rather than with a more subtle fade. This is combined with an unexpected and rushed fade-out during the final chord of each track from this recording. This practice disappointingly serves only to destroy the calm and wistful atmosphere of many of the pieces. It is not clear, but these unattractive fading problems seem to be a feature of the original recording as opposed to the remastered version presented here.
 
The second recording is much improved, however, with virtually no extraneous background noise and a much more rounded sound to the piano. The fading both into and out of the tracks is not in any way intrusive, and the whole listening experience is transformed into something much more pleasant.
 
The music almost speaks for itself, in terms of quality. Covering a wide range of his time as a composer, this compilation is subtitled The Velvet Gentleman, which is how Satie was known as an owner of a number of identical velvet suits. Of the most recognisable of Satie’s works, the three Gymnopédies, are unfortunately subject to the poor sound already mentioned, as are three of the Gnossiennes and the three selected Nocturnes. This defect, which makes listening less pleasurable also affects the transcription of Ragtime from Satie’s ballet Parade and, sadly, the Sports et Divertissements.
 
Those works not affected by poor sound are highly recommendable, although the collection as a whole is sensitively performed by John McCabe, who effectively identifies with and responds expertly to the melancholy, pensive and longing nature of much of this music. The Sports et Divertissements and Chapitres tournés en tous sens provide some of the most distinctive interpretations, while a charming nostalgia is found in Je te veux – valse and the Valse-Ballet.
 
In being remastered, a concerted effort to create some consistency in sound quality would have made this disc a good deal easier to recommend.
 
Adam Binks

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