Satie: Solo Piano Music (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Satie
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Solo Piano Music (complete)
PERFORMER: Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 473 620-2
If Erik Satie hadn’t lived, someone would have had to have invented him. Fortunately he invented himself, carefully crafting dozens of caustic miniatures (and several important large-scale works) that sealed his reputation as a maverick figure and musical non-conformist. Many collectors associate Satie’s piano music with Aldo Ciccolini’s pioneering complete cycle, and rightly so. Yet a new cycle by Jean-Yves Thibaudet (who studied with Ciccolini) purports to be more complete, offering several unpublished works and rarities. Each of the five discs is loosely programmed according to genre and chronology.

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In an age where more and more pianists attempt to impose a mystic, spiritual aura on the music by slowing it down and downplaying its humour, Thibaudet’s impeccable taste, Classical poise and affinity for the composer’s ironic subtexts are akin to an oasis in the desert. His superb technique and complete control over what a modern Steinway can do yield bouquets of nuance and textural variety from even the most modest works, without ever sounding the least bit arch or mannered. Thibaudet is generally less frisky and brusque in faster pieces than his one-time teacher, yet takes greater care in observing Satie’s carefully notated dynamic markings. He metes out rubato in discreet proportions that prevent stark, ceremonial pieces like the Ogives, Danses gothiques, Douze petits chorals and Sonneries de la rose + croix from sounding overly static. The same can be said of familiar fare, as witness Thibaudet’s direct and subtly shaded Gymnopédies, Sarabandes and Gnossiennes. At the same time, Thibaudet’s penchant for extroversion and drama enliven works influenced by Satie’s music hall experience (Je te veux, for example). And how deliciously he characterises Cinéma’s obsessive repeated patterns. Some may be bothered by the close-up engineering and pedal noises, but the warmth and immediacy of Thibaudet’s softer playing amply compensates. With Decca’s superb annotations in tow, Satie completists need not hesitate in acquiring this terrific set. Jed Distler