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Norman Lebrecht’s CD of the Week – Satie & Compagnie

By (February 27, 2013) No Comment

Satie & Compagnie
Mirare

MI0003484702Nobody does chillout like the French, and no Frenchman does it better than Erik Satie. A crackpot in many ways, dressed in green velvet in all seasons and never without an umbrella, Satie invented the idea of background music, which he called ‘musique d’ameublement’ (furniture music). At recitals, he urged audiences to walk around and chat while the musicians played. Muzak took that idea and ran with it.

You can play a baby to sleep with one of Satie’s Gnossiennes, or wind a weary executive down with it faster than two fingers of scotch. Along with its soporific qualities, the music of Satie possesses an intensity that shuts out the busy world and envelops you in its shimmers.

What the marvelous Anne Quéffélec contrives on this unmedicated compilation is a panoply of sounds by Satie and his contemporaries, of whom the best known are Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Reynaldo Hahn. The flaw with albums of this kind is that the best is ever the enemy of the merely good. A Reverie of Debussy is worth ten little pieces by Déodat de Séverac. A fanfare of Ravel’s stands out a Mont Blanc higher than any morceau of Gabriel Dupont.

Twin peaks above them all stands Satie, who is the veritable master of the piano miniature, his genius confirmed by repeated comparison. You will play this album urgently and often but you may find yourself hitting the skip button now and then. The Steinway sound at Poitiers, by the by, is celestial and Mme Quéffélec plays like an angel in a film noir.

Three concerto CDs

Elgar
Telarc

TEL-34030-02Before the 5 wonders of Alisa Weilerstein could fade from my ear, along comes an equally robust American attack on the English masterpiece. The cellist Zuill Bailey has the muscular ease of an Olympic athlete and an irresistible confidence. He knows where he’s going, and you’re happy to ride side-saddle. His large gestures leave little space for tenderness, but the momentum is upbeat and the outlook brighter than expected. Bailey is let down by patches of unrefined Indianapolis sound (conductor Krzystof Urbanski) and an inappropriate coupling – a selection from Smetana’s Ma Vlast.

Brahms
DG

Lisa Batiashvili makes the violin concerto sound so sunny and relaxed you can hardly remembered that Brahms was once feared for his Sturm und Drang. There are no profoundities to this interpretation beyond the enjoyment of beauty and nature in the flawless company of the Dresden Staatskapelle, conductor Christian Thielemann. The filler is a set of romances for violin and piano (Alice Sara Ott) by Brahms’s adored and unattainable Clara Schumann.

Liszt
Pentatone

Nareh Aghamanyan, an Armenian pianist new to me, is deceptively more reflective than most in the two concertos, though she can compete with anyone for speed in the great crashing descents that Liszt uses to end a line of thought. The orchestra is Berlin Radio (conductor Alain Altinoglu) and the two fillers are absolute crackers – the hair-raising Totentanz and the Fantasy on Hungarian Folktunes. Fresh and effervescent, this is a soloist to watch out for.

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Norman Lebrecht is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.