The Essential Erik Satie
We are not short of recordings of Satie's piano music, but this generously filled disc is welcome, not merely because it seems to me to be closer than most to conveying the character of this elusive but fascinating musician, whom his friend Darius Milhaud called ''poor Satie'', but also because it's a little different in presentation from a straightforward recital. For a start, the booklet-notes are also by Peter Dickinson, who is a composer as well as a scholar; they are ''enlightened and sensitive'' (to borrow a phrase Britten once used in praising a book) as well as informative, and preceded by a self-portrait drawing of the composer which I hadn't seen before and is touching and skilful (he sent it to Cocteau in 1917). Peter Dickinson says that he has aimed here ''to represent the best of Satie's unique personality in mystical, comic and popular veins'' and a note at the end of the booklet tells us too that he has ''sought to present The Essential Erik Satie, both by his selection of the works and by stripping away any inessential indulgencies of interpretation''.
The proof of these precepts lies in the playing, we may say—and very nice it is too. The title of Satie's most popular work is hardly ever understood save by scholars, but I have always suspected that the three Gymnopedies which evoke the choral dances of naked boys in ancient Sparta reflect his sexual taste; if they do, their deep innate delicacy and sadness (one is marked douloureux and another triste) must win sympathy. Dickinson plays them with a quiet grave beauty, though ideally the recording here and elsewhere could have allowed a more remote
And he can instantly create a mood for pieces which are sometimes very brief, such as the 21 that make up Sports et divertissements and the final ''Quadrille'' of Le piege which lasts a mere 20 seconds—not a very striking 20 seconds musically, I feel, admitting that there are occasional dampish squibs among Satie's fireworks, including such titles as
Space forbids more, and suffice it to say again that I have enjoyed this Satie record and that it has reminded me just how much worthwhile piano music came from the pen of this composer—indeed, there's room for another Satie/Dickinson disc. A good recording adds to one's pleasure; with a certain softness to the piano sound, it was made in The Maltings, Snape with Bob Auger as sound engineer.'