has already recorded for Zig Zag, on her 1905 Erard piano,
Ravel’s Left-hand Piano Concerto and, with Jos van Immerseel,
Rachmaninov’s Suites for two pianos. The Ravel recording
(ZZT060901, coupled with Boléro
, etc.) received
a warm welcome from several reviewers, the Rachmaninov
a much less enthusiastic one.
The present CD
opens with the first three Gnossiennes
. The first
of these is marked Lent
, but I thought that Chevallier’s
time of 4:48 was just too slow. Klara Körmendi’s tempo
(Naxos 8.550305, a selection from her complete set) seems
much more apposite here. The same is true for the other
– and why do we have only the first
three; where are the remaining Gnossiennes
certainly captures a dreamlike, mystic, almost fragile
atmosphere here, but I prefer Körmendi. I almost wrote
that Chevallier makes Satie sound more like the music of
his on-off friend, Debussy, except that Debussy’s piano
music isn’t as fragile as this.
Actually, on reflection,
it isn’t so much the tempo of Chevallier’s playing that’s
the problem – Reinbert de Leeuw on his much-praised recording
(Eloquence 468 160 2 or Philips Duo 462 161 2) is actually
slower in Nos.1 and 3, but he keeps the music moving forward
without sounding as studied as Chevallier. There certainly
is a wide variety of tempi on offer in these works, with
Pascal Rogé (mid-price Decca 475 7527) almost as fast as
Körmendi, without in any way losing the magic of the music:
indeed, his recording was originally justly sub-titled Piano
(458 105 2 – still available at full price.)
Annie Queffélec’s tempi are also in the same league as
those of Rogé and Körmendi without in any way sounding
too hurried. Her recommendable accounts of Gnossiennes
in a variety of inexpensive couplings on 1- 2- and 4-CD
sets (see below).
Körmendi and Rogé also
perform the Gymnopédies
; here, too, I found their
rather faster tempi much more to the point, even though
Körmendi (but not Rogé) perhaps misses some of the magic
and she isn’t quite triste
enough in No.2 or grave
in No.3. Of course, the well-known No.1 is marked Lent
, but surely Chevallier (track 11) is
? Again, it isn’t just a question
of tempo: once more, de Leeuw is just as slow, but he keeps
the music moving. In No.2 he expresses the sadness and
gravity of these pieces, respectively, at tempi even slower
than Chevallier’s. Nevertheless, my overall preference
would be for Rogé, whose recording of the Gnossiennes
also be obtained in wma or mp3 sound for £7.90 as a download
(410 220 2 or 475 7527) from Universal’s classicsandjazz.co.uk.
Be aware, however, that the latter may be obtained on CD
for much the same price (currently at £8.07 from one dealer).
an excellent compromise: she performs the three Gymnopédies
tempi intermediate between those of Körmendi and Rogé on
the one hand and de Leeuw and Chevallier on the other.
Most listeners will probably find her ideal.
De Leeuw also
performs the Ogives
; again, his tempi are, if anything,
even slower than Chevallier’s – her version of No.2 sound
positively lively at 2:27 by comparison with his 3:54 – but,
once again, with this one exception, he keeps the music
moving where Chevallier sounds somewhat tentative.
The new Chevallier
recording will appeal especially to anyone who wishes to
hear her 1905 Erard piano and to those who want the less
accessible items in the programme. Several of the pieces
here, many of them associated with the Rosicrucians, don’t
feature on other recordings which couple Gymnopédies
some of them are available only on complete recordings
of Satie’s piano music. For most listeners, however, there
are better – mostly less expensive – alternatives.
The classic performances
by Aldo Ciccolini come in a 5-CD set from EMI (5 85602
2 or 5 74534 2) or on a single-CD selection (mid price
5 67239 2 or budget price EMI Encore 5 86430 2). His tempi
tend to fall between the extremes, with a tendency towards
the faster end of the range. His Gymnopédie
for example, at 3:09, is only a trifle slower than Körmendi
and much faster than Chevallier, yet it perfectly captures
the spirit of the marking lent et douloureux
account of No.2 is even further removed from Chevallier’s
tempo, without losing one iota of the music’s meaning and
the same is true of his versions of Gnossiennes
If you don’t mind intrusive marketing at the beginning
of each track, you can listen free to the whole of Ciccolini’s
performances on 5 67239 2 on We7.com.
Tony Hayward confidently
recommended a budget-price RCA recording, including the Gymnopédies
by Peter Dickinson (09026 63976 2 – see review
and Neil Horner recommended another inexpensive recording
by Håkon Austbø, containing Gymnopédies
: Classic Collection 99896 – see review
the link on that page will now take you to Brilliant Classics,
who issue that recording with the same catalogue number.
I note that Austbø’s tempi tend, like Queffélec’s, to fall
between the extremes.
Adam Binks thought
the recording on a well-filled Regis CD of performances
by John McCabe, from Saga originals, too variable for a
wholehearted recommendation (RRC1227 – see review
Reinbert de Leeuw’s
single-disc Eloquence or 2-CD Duo set (see above) offer
much better value than this new Zig Zag recording. His
performances are just a little too slow for my liking,
though they have been defended on the grounds that he offers
what Satie wanted.
single-CD selection is recommendable enough – there’s nothing
special on offer here, but there are no extremes of tempo
or interpretation. Her complete recording, on four separate
CDs, is outshone and out-priced by Annie Queffélec.
Satie performances are available on a budget-price Virgin
Classics CD (3 63296 2); at half the price of the new Chevallier
recording it has a great deal to recommend it, as does
her even less expensive (per CD) 2-CD set (5 22050 2, around £7.50)
and the 4-CD set on which she is joined by Catherine Collard
(Virgin 5 62363 2, around £15 in the UK). You can try her
single-CD and 2-CD collections free on We7; as with the
Ciccolini, you’ll have to put up with a brief ad at the
start of each track.
Any one of these
may well be the best all-round recommendation for those
seeking a recording of Satie’s piano music.
Even the less
well-known pieces on Chevallier’s programme usually come
in brisker performances on those collections which contain
them. The Prélude de la Porte Héroïque du Ciel
for example, receives a much faster performance on the
well-received John White CD (Arte Nova 74321 27797 2).
White’s recording also includes the Sonneries de la
Rose + Croix
(Zig Zag trs.8-10); here his overall timing
is very close to Chevallier’s. You can try this collection
out, too, on We7 – but don’t follow the link to iTunes
to purchase: it’s cheaper to buy the CD from several online
dealers, for around £5.
If you think you
might react more favourably to Chevallier’s tempi than
I did, you could try one track from her recording from
eMusic, for 20p or 24p, depending on which tariff you choose – or
just choose the opening of each track free, with no membership
required. I strongly recommend that you try before you
The new Zig Zag
recording comes in a cardboard gatefold sleeve. The recorded
sound is good but the presentation is almost as esoteric
as Satie himself. In the notes Ms Chevallier tells us little
about the music, more about Satie’s temperament and her
approach to his music, in which she seems to claim a special
relationship not quite borne out in the actual performances.
I’m not trying to be sarcastic when I say that perhaps
that special relationship needs more time to mature.