Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Gymnopédies Nos. 1-3 (1888) [8:00]
Pieces froides – Airs a faire fuir [7:28]
Embryons desséchés [5:41]
Veritable Préludes Flasques (pour un chien) [2:08]
Les Trois Valses distinguées du précieux dégoute [2:25]
Sports et Divertissements (1914) [11:31]
Avant-dernières Pensées [3:16]
Vieux séquins et vieilles Cuirasses [3:21]
Prélude de la Porte Héroique du Ciel [4:14]
Gnossiennes I, III, IV, V (1890) [9:18]
Heures séculaires et instantanées [3:07]
Je te veux (1900) [4:18]
Ragtime-Parade [2:12]
Joanna MacGregor (piano)
rec. August 1989, St John's Smith Square, London

There is not exactly a shortage of recordings of this repertoire and listeners may well decide which version to buy on the basis of the “fill-ups” to the Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes. MacGregor's disc, which is very fine indeed, may be slightly hampered by her unusual decision not to include all of the Gnossiennes: Nos. 2 and 6 are absent. Pascal Rogé offers a more immediately attractive selection on the Decca Classic FM label, but not every listener will respond positively to Rogé's overtly romantic approach. He occasionally misses the edgier aspects of Satie's sound-world and this effect is underlined by his rather resonant recorded sound. There is a Naxos version, played by Klára Körmendi, but this is disappointingly unimaginative in performance terms and has a rather dry acoustic.

MacGregor is musically equipped to bring out all the facets of the Satie style. She is superb in the Gymnopédies and her performance of these three evergreen miniatures is as fine as any available. Her selection of the Gnossiennes is equally atmospheric. It is rather a shame that Satie's charming Sonatine bureaucratique was not included, as this is definitely one of the composer's most unusual and distinctive works. Some of the pieces chosen are new to me, but all are played with MacGregor's customary authority. The Sports et Divertissements comes off very well indeed, with speeds noticeably swifter than Pascal Rogé. As for the less celebrated works, it would be fair to say that every one of them, however tiny, is well shaped and characterised in these performances. The wit and humour of Embryons desséchés is particularly well interpreted.

The sound is good, although there may have been a certain amount of post-production to modify the acoustic. This has left a slightly artificial quality, but this should not deter the curious listener. A more serious snag is the absence of a programme note, which is puzzling, as Joanna MacGregor usually has something interesting to write about the composers she champions.

For those who want this particular selection of pieces, this is a beautifully played and extremely enjoyable album, demonstrating the different sides of Satie's ever-fascinating musical personality.

David Jennings

A very persuasive selection of Satie's piano music showing his full stylistic range.