‘Un hommage à Erik’
Richard Fowles: Knossienne N° 1 – Knossienne N° 2 – Knossienne N° 3 – Biqui N° 1 (Andante and Lento) – Sea-Bird – A Walk to Le Chat noir on a Snowy Day – Biqui N° 2 (Andante and Lento) – Monsieur Le Pauvre – The Velvet Gentleman (His Bowler Hat; His Pince-Nez; His Umbrella) – Biqui N° 3 (Andante and Lento) – Sylvie
Christina McMaster (Piano)
Recording: Royal Academy of Music, London (December 19-20, 2014) – 45’40
Music and Media Consulting #MMC111 – Liner notes in English
Composer Richard Fowles wanted to commemorate Erik Satie’s 150th birthday, and he has done so with musical relevance and magic by collaborating with pianist Christina McMaster in Un hommage à Erik. Because Satie’s music is so famous now, Fowles explains he wanted to honor the Frenchman in a unique way. Thus, he composed a series of piano works inspired by Satie’s life and aesthetics that deftly avoid pitfalls of imitation, stylization and reverence. Without doubt a magical equation in this recording is the technical artistry of pianist Christina McMaster. It had to be obvious to Fowles that McMaster has an unnamable mystique when she plays Satie because it even jumps out in these tracks…not an easy feat in recording solo piano.
McMaster opens with the dramatic piano triptych Knossienne laced with Fowles’ direct musical quotes from Satie. The composition cites Satie’s well-known pieces that explores his interest in the mysticism of the Gnossis sect excavations of his era. Fowles summons cryptic mysteries on these tracks via Satie as well. Listeners need not know this background for Fowles and McMaster succeed in invoking atmospherics, highlighted by Fowles’ fusion of Eastern European folkloric melodies, salon noir and lingering tonal shadows.
Another direct musical reference occurs in the opening downbeat notes of Monsieur Le Pauvre (Mr. Poor) echoing one of Satie's most familiar passages. In fact, it is an arrestingly subtle companion piece.
The brighter, soft notes of the six part bio-drama, Biqui, contains Fowles’ narrative about Satie’s six month torrid affair with artist-model Suzanne Valadon. Fowles reports it was Satie’s only relationship, and it left him with an “icy loneliness.” These short interludes have both playful intimacy and disquieting chromatics. Fowles has two tempo markings on the charts for the pianist to choose from to manipulate the moods.
Another bit of Satie history is the backstory on Sea-Bird, the nickname of Satie’s eccentric uncle who had great influence on his life. The title of Fowles’ whimsical and enigmatic musical portrait is not without melancholy. In contrast, the steely, but wending structure of A Walk to Le Chat noir on a Snowy Day has a musically existential allure à la Satie. Fowles casts Satie’s equally evocative musical simplicity in the recording’s end piece entitled, Sylvie.
The Velvet Gentlemen is a three-part comic miniature about a said gentleman’s head coverings: “His Bowler Hat”, a bit of twilight zone dizziness, followed by “His Pince-Nez” with its animated tick-tocky percussive drive, and “His Umbrella” with musical rain-drop impressions on his bumper.
Even though Satie was a member of the famed Les Six, Fowles notes Satie’s music was largely appreciated after his death. This is a musically hypnotic project by Fowles and McMaster, and it completely lives up to Fowles’ intentions by honoring Satie's distinctive sound. The warm acoustical quality of their sessions was engineered at the Royal Academy of Music in London by Speakman Sound Limited.
Lewis J. Whittington