SATIE Socrate. Hymne. Trois Melodies
This celebratory nod towards the 150th anniversary of Erik Satie’s birth aptly demonstrates something that every Satie aficionado ought to feel instinctively: the more you actively do to a Satie score – glosses of quasi-Romantic rubato and allied generic expressive artifice present a particular problem – the further the music is distanced from its gestural and spiritual essence.
Throughout their album, Barbara Hannigan and Reinbert de Leeuw maintain a very noticeable consistency of mood, atmosphere and colour. The coolly detached house style of Winter & Winter has been respected but an aesthetic decision has clearly been taken to represent Satie as a creative lone wolf – as an early adopter of theories about harmonic narratives symbolising little apart from the sound of harmony itself which John Cage began to preach during the 1950s, a view that befits a label that has variously immersed itself in the compositional objectivity of Cage, Mauricio Kagel and, most recently, Hans Abrahamsen (and decides to put texts online rather than print them as part of the physical edition).
De Leeuw recorded Trois Mélodies, Trois Autres Mélodies and Hymne with the Dutch soprano Marjanne Kweksilber in 1976 but these new readings speak of Satie’s deep mysteries with extra intensity. The introverted discretion of de Leeuw’s pianism is weighted to perfection during the six Mélodies. As a corrective to that ingrained habit of hairpinning through a rising melodic line, Satie doggedly restates pp in the opening song, ‘Les anges’. And when faithfully realised, as now, the music folds inwards as expressive archetypes are required to function against type.
As with Satie’s notorious Vexations (to which Hymne is closely allied harmonically), once you manage to override Socrate’s apparently faceless surface, all sorts of unforeseeable delights are revealed. Suzanne Danco’s 1937 performance (Darius Milhaud conducting the orchestral version) oozes period charm, it’s true. But Barbara Hannigan, with her flawless enunciation and steadiness of control in the upper register, skilfully removes any hint of operatic grandstanding; and, with de Leeuw skulking in the harmonic shadows, you witness the anonymity of the lines she sings being achieved through ingenious, riddle-like harmonic sidesteps – Satie already teasing with that Cageian ideal of persevering until ‘one discovers that it is not boring at all’.