Letter(s) to Satie

Letter(s) to Satie

Anyone who has heard Bertrand Chamayou pounding his way through Saint-Saens might be somewhat alarmed at the thought of him essaying Satie, but within the confines of the modern, emotionally detached style of playing he epitomises, this album is rather good.

The main point of interest is the pairing of Satie with John Cage, who admired him enormously. Two of Cage’s pieces, Perpetual Tango and Swinging, follow on from two of Satie’s Sports et divertissements, on which they are loosely based, and the recital opens with All Sides of the Small Stone, for Erik Satie, an evocative recreation of his sound-world about, which is very probably, as opposed to definitely, by Cage. There are also three tracks featuring a prepared piano, one of which is by another Satie devotee, James Tenney.

These pieces, and especially Cage’s A Room, create timbres reminiscent of traditional Korean music mixed with distant bells, while Tenney’s thirty second 3 Pages in the Shape of a Pear is far more acerbic. All are beautifully performed. In the standard piano pieces, Chamayou creates alluring webs of sound and the last track, Dream, is very atmospheric, although Swinging needs to be more emphatic.

Chamayou’s approach to Satie is very cool. In Gymnopédie No.1 he makes the recurring bass chords sound minimalist. In three of the Gnossienne the dynamics are suitably restrained, and he eschews the sustaining pedal, but brings plenty of attack and humour to On joue. What is perhaps missing is the quiet sense of melancholy Aldo Ciccolini finds in this music, but, on balance, Chamayou’s more detached, sculpted approach is equally valid.  

The 24/96 stream captures the dry, low-reverberation acoustic of the Miravel Studios and as there are very few dynamic markings above mezzo-forte, the engineers needed to capture the multiple shades of piano and below Chamayou creates, which they have done reasonably well. What is less satisfactory is the overall weight of sound, which lacks the body and resonance found on many of the independent labels.    

As a bonus you get some fascinating programme notes by Chamayou. 

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