Satie: Piano and Four Hands Piano Works

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WORKS: Trois Gymnopedies; Trois morceaux en forme de poire; Trois Gnossiennes; Trois petites pièces montées; Embryons Desséchés; Avant-dernières pensées; Sports et divertissements; Véritables préludes flasques (pour un chien)
PERFORMER: Katia & Marielle Labèque (piano)

 Why are surprises so rare in recordings of Satie? For a compositional non-conformist, who had scant regard for convention or expectation, it is ironic that his music now almost always appears in predictable packages.
The Gymnopedies are not only permanent fixtures, but also appear as a job lot of three, even though listening to them as an indivisible triptych is far from the most effective way to appreciate their melancholic beauty. The Gnossiennes suffer the same fate, forlornly herded together.
While the Labèques follow the flock (Alexandre Tharaud’s wonderfully imaginative recent set is exceptional in breaking free), all is forgiven on encountering their marvellously quixotic playing. They only include two duo works, the Trois morceaux en forme de poire and Trois petites pièces montées, with the implication that further forays into Satie’s world are on the cards.
Needless to say both works are given sterling performances, but the solo playing that is especially revealing. There is beauty and charm aplenty, but the Gnossiennes are truly capricious in Katia’s hands, while Marielle refuses to treat the second Gymnopedie like delicate porcelain.
Occasionally piano tuning is not quite in focus, but this is a minor caveat with such inventive playing. The haiku-like miniatures of Sports et divertissements are finely drawn, and the addition of some birdsong to ‘La Pêche’ underlines their irreverent sympathy with Satie’s music. Christopher Dingle