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REVIEW
RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Socrate
Trois Mélodies [1886]
1. Les Anges (á notre ami Charles Levadé) [2:47]
2. Élegie (à Mademoiselle Céleste Le Prédour) [3:41]
3. Sylvie (à Mademoiselle Olga Satie) [3:36[
Trois Autres Mélodies [1886 – 1906]
4. Chanson (à Mademoiselle Valentine de Bret) [1:08]
5. Chanson médiévale [1:24]
6. Les Fleurs [1:53]
7. Hymne (Pour le “Salut Drapeau” du “Prince de Byzance” du Sâr Péladan) [1891] [4:34]
Socrate [1919], Drame Symphonique en trois Parties avec Voix
8. Portrait de Socrate (from Plato’s Symposium) [5:49]
9. Les Bords d’Illissus (from Plato’s Phaedrus) [7:30]
10. Mort de Socrate (from Plato’s Phaedo) [18:25]
Barbara Hannigan (soprano)
Reinbert de Leeuw (piano)
rec. Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, The Netherlands, September 2015
Texts and English translations available at www.winterandwinter.com
WINTER & WINTER 910 234-2 [50:43]

In this, Erik Satie’s anniversary year, a number of recordings have been released. If you plan to buy just one, then I suggest you make it this one. Not only does it move away from the purely pianistic, offering instead a selection of the composers mélodies, but the beauty of the music making on this recording also deserves your attention.

In the book by Graham Johnson and Richard Stokes, A French Song Companion, Erik Satie is described as the most influential single composer on the development of the French mélodie, or art song, his influence being both tangible as well as not so obvious. Satie composed both art and cabaret songs, from the profound to the scurrilous, some being mini-masterpieces.

This disc opens with the Trois Mélodies of 1886. These predate the Gymnopédies by a couple of years and are incredibly modern in their outlook. The piano writing can be described as quite simple, almost minimalistic. The third of the songs, Sylvie, is one of his first compositions without bar lines, with a melody that seems to float above the piano in the ethereal vocal line.

These are followed by Trois Autres Mélodies, which were composed between 1886 and 1906. These very short songs show that Satie was also open to influences, in that stylistic similarities can be drawn between these songs and those of Debussy.

Satie’s fascination with mystical religion led in 1891 to him becoming the official composer and chapel master of the Ordre de la Rose-Croix Catholique, du temple et la Graal, and resulted in such piano pieces as Première pensée Rose Croix (1891) and Sonneries de la Rose Croix (1892). Hymne, which Johnson and Stokes describe as “perhaps Satie’s most difficult song to perform...”, also dates from this period. Barbara Hannigan imparts to this song an almost childlike devotional manner which suits the music well.

Scored for voice and chamber orchestra or, as performed here, for voice and piano, Socrate, a ‘Symphonic Drama in Three Parts’ is the real masterpiece on this disc. Its three sections make up over half the programme – the final section alone, Mort de Socrate, lasts over eighteen minutes. This creates its own technical difficulties for singer and pianist alike. Happily, both Hannigan and De Leeuw rise to the challenge admirably. If anything, I prefer this piano version to that with orchestra, as here more emphasis is placed on the singer.

Barbara Hannigan proves to be one of the finest interpreters of this music, certainly the equal of the tenor Jean Belliard on Timpani (11020) and Mady Mesplé on Warner (9082564047963), while Reinbert de Leeuw proves that you do not need the chamber orchestra in Socrate. Indeed, the partnership between Hannigan and De Leeuw shows great intelligence and a true sense of ensemble that opens this music to a greater understanding.

The booklet notes are spread over two sides of the digipac. While they give a brief but detailed insight into the composer, more notes on the music itself would have been welcome. Full texts and translations into English are available at the website. The recorded sound is excellent and well balanced, helping the listener to get the most from this music.

Stuart Sillitoe
 
Previous review: John Quinn

 

 



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