Jean Belliard / Billy Eidi

Satie: Socrate; 6 Nocturnes

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Socrate, a setting of three rather stilted texts from Plato's dialogues, is unlike anything else Erik Satie ever wrote. It came at the end of his career, after the gleefully surreal Parade, and it exists in several different versions, of which this recording presents perhaps the least desirable. Originally scored for vocal ensemble and a small orchestra, it was reduced by the composer to the voice-and-piano version recorded here. Several characters appear in the three dialogues from which the text is drawn, and the middle section, a charmingly aimless conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus, is entirely dialogic. Here the music is sung entirely by tenor Jean Belliard, however, something that Satie's setting seems designed to allow (the voices inhabit the same range and don't overlap), but that still cramps some of the possibilities in the music. The style of the work might be described as Satie without the humor, or, better, as Satie at his most arcanely humorous. He matches Plato's lines of dialogue, and his account of the death of Socrates in the final section, with a dry, almost neutral style whose formality and block chords hark back in some respects to the neo-Renaissance style of Satie's earliest works. Socrate may not be a work for the newcomer to Satie, but those versed in his ways should add it to their collections, and Belliard's reading, whatever one may think of the version of the work involved, is very nicely attuned to the nature of Satie's wit, which was never lightweight and always had something of the abstract quality that with Socrate reached its apotheosis. The six Nocturnes for solo piano and the concluding minuet date from about the same time as Socrate and have the same kind of strangely non-humorous and yet not serious character. A fine bookend to a Satie collection.

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