Vienna Art Orchestra

The Minimalism of Erik Satie
hatOLOGY 671

Re-orchestrating the quirky compositions of Erik Satie (1868-1925) may seem peculiar, but that’s what conductor Mathias Rüegg and the 10-piece Vienna Art Orchestra (VAO) do with élan on this 75-minute CD. Over the past 33 years, the VAO has effected similar transformations on the music of other composers such as Strauss, Brahms and Gershwin, not to mention many of jazz’s greatest themes. Here the procedures emphasize the pared-down and folkloric tendencies found in the music of France`s Satie, a transitional composer, whose eccentric titles and cabaret influences presaged experimental sounds.

Recasting the music of a composer known for his piano works, Rüegg’s arrangements feature no pianist, instead relying on the VAO`s soloists to put an personal stamp on Satie. “Reflections on Méditation” for instance, revolves around Lauren Newton’s squeaky scatting and Karl Fian’s whinnying and slurry trumpet lines. “Reflections on Sévère Réprimande”, balances Harry Sokol’s languid soprano saxophone solo on an undertow of mid-range brass and vibraharp textures. More radically, a composition such as “Reflections on Gnossienne No 1” becomes a romping circus-styled exposition with joyful contrapuntal rhythms courtesy of Wolfgang Pusching’s Arabic-sounding sopranino saxophone and the reverberations from Wolfgang Reisinger’s tarabuka or goblet drum.

Rüegg’s transformation of Satie’s works as pared-to-the-bone minimalism is most apparent on the three variants on “Vexations” which the composer wanted performed slowly with many repetitions. Since one track lasts more than 23 minutes and the other two either side of nine, the VAO adds needed emotion to these exercises courtesy of, in one instance Newton’s melismatic vocalese, and in another Roman Schwaller’s sensual tenor saxophone lines.

— Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 16 #5