Satie Piano Works RCA 09026 639762

Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2003 and the recording is still available.

Erik Satie (1866-1925)
Piano Works
Peter Dickinson (piano)
rec. 1989
RCA 09026 639762 [77]

Satie is a composer who defies description, and his mysteriously poignant piano pieces, which make up about three-quarters of his output, are his most representative music. By turns tender, solemn, droll, witty and occasionally just plain boring, they have the same quirky originality as his life and his love of flying in the face of convention. They have certainly proved their appeal for record collectors, judging by the amount of recital discs in the catalogue. Peter Dickinson’s well-recorded survey, which was originally issued at mid-price by Conifer, makes a welcome return at budget price. It is up against very stiff competition from, among others, Pascal Rogé, Anne Queffélec, Ronan O’Hora, Reinbert DeLeeuw and Jean-Philippe Collard, and it is to Dickinson’s credit that he more than holds his own in this company.

Rather than ‘theming’ the items, as DeLeeuw does, Dickinson opts for a general early-middle-late survey of the music, giving a good overall picture of its many facets. He proves himself to be a sensitive artist in this repertoire, and the sad tenderness of the ubiquitous Gymnopédies comes over well. He may be slightly brisker than some with the meltingly beautiful flow of Nos.1 and 3, but this could be a conscious attempt to eschew an inappropriately romantic indulgence. The odd discreet rubato is in evidence elsewhere, as in the delicious little waltz, Je te veux (I want thee), where the café-cabarets in which Satie played are beautifully evoked.

Of particular interest are the works of the mature phase of his career, where characteristic caperings and banalities are balanced by his concerns for lyrical balance, harmonic adventurousness, and what became seen as a sort of proto-minimalism. Dickinson is remarkably subtle in his approach here, giving due weight where required without missing any sense of fun inherent in the music. The marvellous Sonatine bureaucratique, for example, gives the right impression of Parisian bustle and energy, without losing sight of the Clementi-style parody constantly lurking beneath the surface.

The piano tone is very truthful, the digital recording capturing the instrument’s sonority with clarity and presence. Booklet notes are very fulsome and detailed for a budget reissue, and altogether this attractive disc can be confidently recommended.

Tony Haywood

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Trois gymnopédies
La piège de méduse
Croquis et agaceries d’un bonhomme en bois
Poudre d’or
Chapitres tournés en tous sens
Le fils des étoiles
Le piccadilly
Prélude en tapisserie
Véritables préludes flasques pour un chien
Je te veux
Sonatine bureaucratique
Pièces froides (airs et faire fuir)
Sports et divertissements