WORKS: Gymnopédies, Gnossiennes, Ogives, Socrate, Parade, Vexations
PERFORMER: Riri Shimada (piano), Noriko Tokuoka (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SM3K 52508 DDD
These new discs of Satie’s piano works are up against some stiff competition, particularly from Anne Queffélec, whose two-disc selection on Virgin Classics is still my top recommendation. But for those who want the complete works Klára Koermendi could, on the evidence of Volume 1, be a strong contender.
The sound doesn’t have the delicacy of Queffélec’s, but some may find its warmth preferable. These early, mystical works are hard to bring off – their utterly simple rhythmic tread and deliberately aimless, circling harmonies can sound enervating and ponderous. Koermendi brings out the mysterious, self-effacing grace of these pieces by adopting fairly brisk tempi, which allow her to give a sense of line to those slowly processing chords and winding melodies.
Her performances of the five Nocturnes are particularly fine; they are sensitively inflected without being at all sentimental. Shimada’s three-disc set is a tough listen, as it’s devoted almost entirely to music from Satie’s ‘Rosicrucian’ period. All that mysticism is hard to take, particularly in performances as stodgy and overblown as these.
Things improve on the third disc, which has some light relief in the form of Parade, a Dadaist ballet with waltzes and ragtimes. It also contains Cage’s brilliant and rarely-heard two-piano arrangement of Socrate. The performances finally come to life on this disc, which makes me wish Sony had released it on its own. Ivan Hewett