When Erik Satie died in 1925, his friends, upon entering his Paris apartment for the first time in 30 years, were confronted with a strange scene. Amid general squalor, two grand pianos sat one atop the other, the upper serving as storage for parcels, compositions thought lost, umbrellas (without which he never walked, hating the sun) and other papers. Among these were many unsent love letters to the woman thought to be Satie’s only romantic involvement, model and painter Suzanne Valadon, who ended their affair after six months: Satie reportedly never recovered.
Fascinated by this scenario, award-winning composer Elena Kats-Chernin has taken it upon herself to post some of those letters, in the form of 26 beautifully constructed piano miniatures in homage to Satie, each named and composed with particular reference to an aspect of Satie’s life and his turbulent romance with Valadon. From the opening bar of the first piece, love token, Kats-Chernin’s ability to draw unusual timbres from the piano is apparent, using woody, breathy upper register repetition to hypnotic effect. Elsewhere, moods shift and sway with occasional hints of jauntiness (tuesday suit) and some extended piano techniques (the gymnast) but permeated by the dreamy spatial chromatics of the Gnossiennes and Gymnopedies for which Satie is now most famous.
For this premiere recording, Kats-Chernin has again teamed up with virtuoso pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska, who has come to be particularly associated with contemporary Australian composers, winning an ARIA Award in 2015 for her ABC recording of Peter Sculthorpe’s Complete Works for Solo Piano. Cislowska’s long musical relationship with Kats-Chernin ensures a particular depth of understanding for these deeply melancholy works, the extreme intimacy of which is reinforced by very close microphone placement so that every nuance of string, wood
and pedalling is audible.