Barbara Hannigan / Reinbert de Leeuw

Erik Satie: Socrate

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Socrate is one of the strangest in the oeuvre of a composer who wrote a lot of strange works. Erik Satie reportedly ate only white foods to get himself in the mood to write this setting of texts from Plato about Socrates, fashioning them into a little three-act drama about the philosopher's life. To this, Satie applies music that resembles nothing else he wrote, without a hint of his usual satirical nature. The sound is drifting, almost featureless, perhaps mystical: was it his intention to symbolize the truths of ancient philosophy in this way? The late work has not been recorded often, but soprano Barbara Hannigan and pianist Reinbert de Leeuw take it on its own terms, keeping the music on a spookily even keel and adding nothing in the way of expression that's not in the score. They produce a Socrate that could be a forerunner to the vocal works of Philip Glass. Hannigan and de Leeuw do well to pair the work with early Satie songs of an intentionally artless quality, and with the Hymne (otherwise known as "Salut drapeau!"), which prepares the ground for the odd, quasi-dramatic quality of the main attraction. Even when it comes to Satie fans, this is not for everyone, but it will fascinate a certain subset. The sound from the German label Winter & Winter is perfectly attuned to what Hannigan and de Leeuw are trying to do, but the annotation is too featureless: it offers only a biography of Satie, which is easily found elsewhere.

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