AMN Reviews: Philip Corner – Satie Slowly (Unseen Worlds)

medium_UW12Philip Corner could write a book on Erik Satie. And he has, moderately thick and CD sized, slipcovered together with his double set of interpretations of a broad swathe of the Frenchman´s fin-de-siècle. In it, he delves into the minutiae of how he confronts Satie. Remarkably for the lay but enthusiastic, long-time listener, Corner feels that pianists insist on playing him too fast. He insists that Satie is “right…revolutionary [while pretending] to be traditional.” On Satie Slowly, Corner holds each note up like a rare gem to be admired in the light before moving on to the next.

This certainly doesn´t mean he is going to handle him with kid gloves. The ivories get a right bashing on the first piece, “Ogive I”. And he plays “Gnossienne No. 1” over ten minutes and with fervour. Part of the excellence of this collection is its amplitude. Too many of us have been stuck in the same Satie rut for years, I´ll wager. A piece like “The Feast Given by the Norman Knights to Honor a Young Girl,” daunting title notwithstanding, is courtly and polite and in Corner´s hands has something Medieval to its rhythm. And he is sweetness itself on the “Second Prelude of the Nazarene”. The album even introduced me to the first piece by Satie I´ve actively disliked: “The Gothic Dances” has too many flying buttresses and tall, pointy windows for my taste.

The famous “Gymnopédie” are exquisite, more sensual than they´ve ever been. Three fanfares for the Rosicrucians (Satie joined the secret society in the 1890s) are like plainchant transcribed for modern ears. These are followed by his twelve tiny “Chorales,” each about a half a haiku long, before a jaunty, kick-in-the-pants closer called “Empire´s Diva,” full of Laurel & Hardy pratfalls and come-hither Mary Pickford eyelash flutters that could have leapt right off the silent screen.

A full evening´s entertainment and enlightenment.

Stephen Fruitman