On record: Meriel & Peter Dickinson: An Erik Satie Entertainment (Heritage Records)


Meriel Dickinson (mezzo-soprano / reader), Peter Dickinson (piano / reader)

Heritage Records HTGCD171 [68’09”] French texts included
Producer Antony Hodgson
Engineer Tony Faulkner

Recorded 6 October 1975 at All Saints’ Church, Petersham (Unicorn LP only) Remastered by Peter Newble

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The Heritage label continues its worthwhile excavation of overlooked ‘deep catalogue’ with this selection of Erik Satie’s piano pieces, songs and prose as performed by Meriel and Peter Dickinson, whose recitals were a notable fixture of the UK music-scene over several decades.

What’s the music like?

After the lively and rumbustious march Le Piccadilly (1904), Trois melodies (1887) show the composer’s poignant take on domestic song-writing from the period. The haunting Deuxième Gnossienne (1893) is followed by the hieratic plangency of Hymne: ‘Salut Drapeau!’ (1891), while the Deuxième Pièce froide (1897) anticipates the quirky humour to come. Tendrement (1902) ranks among Satie’s most disarming songs, as does the amiable Proudre d’or (1900/1) within his piano music. Two winsome songs from incidental music for the play Geneviève de Brabant (1899/1900) precede two piano pieces – the mystically aloof Première Gymnopédie (1888) and the demurely anarchic Vexations (1893) – which, between them, outline the extent of Satie’s creative thinking. Similarly, the gently facetious humour of Trois melodies (1916) affords pointed contrast with the introspective mystery of the early Chanson (1887) then the considered evocation which is Chanson medieval (1906); further reminders that demarcation between this composer’s seemingly serious and humorous sides cannot be taken as absolute.

An undoubted bonus of the added live material is the Dickinsons’ readings from Satie’s own writings. Thus, there is Peter’s deadpan rendering of Satie’s Self-Portrait as provided for his publisher, its barbed whimsy duly complemented by brief piano interludes from his comedy Le Piège de Méduse (1913), while those gnomic expressions that are Quatres petites melodies (1920) inhabit similarly elliptical domain. Peter reads from the composer’s fanciful outline of his ‘routine for living’ in A Musician’s Diary, while Meriel tells of his ironic attitude towards Beethoven in Satie’s Fakes; between them, she sings the compact confessionals that are Trois Poèmes d’amour (1914). The gnomic song-cycle Ludions (1923), among Satie’s final works, makes a suitably telling foil to Peter’s reading of the archetypal Satie text In Praise of Critics. The selection concludes with a brace of songs – the blithely sardonic La Diva de l’Empire (1904) then the quintessentially Satie confection Je te veux (1897), its deftest interplay of charm and guile with a knowing sentimentality evidently to the pleasure of those listening.

Does it all work?

Very much so, given that Meriel and Peter are so attuned to the facets of Satie’s inimitable genius. At the time of this LP and its attendant recitals, its sheer extent had still to be fully assessed, which does not lessen the significance of the Dickinsons’ efforts (as with Satie’s younger contemporary and English counterpart Lord Berners) in championing this music at the highest artistic level. Both the transfer of the original Unicorn disc and the live extracts (mono) have been capably done – revealing few, if any, limitations in the source-material.

Is it recommended?

It is, not least as an informed and appealing introduction to this music by artists for whom its advocacy was clearly a labour of love. A pity that English translations of the song-texts were not included, though these are mostly accessible online, and their omission is a minor caveat.

For further information on this release, and to purchase, visit the Heritage Records website, and for more on Meriel and Peter Dickinson click here

On record – Martyn Hill, Meriel Dickinson & Peter Dickinson: James Joyce’s Favourite Songs (Heritage)

Chamber Music: Thirty-Two Songs by G. Molyneaux Palmera The Joyce Book: Thirteen Songs, by Moeran, Bax, Roussel, Hughes, Ireland, Sessions, Bliss, Howells, Antheil, Carducci, Goossens, C. W. Orr and van Dierenb

bMeriel Dickinson (mezzo-soprano), aMartyn Hill (tenor), Peter Dickinson (piano)

Heritage HTGCD175 [71’28”]

Producer Jillian M. White
Remastering Engineers John Marsden, Peter Newble

Recorded 7 December 1981, BBC Broadcasting House, London (The Joyce Book); 18 November 1986, St. George’s Brandon Hill (Chamber Music)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Heritage further expands its Peter Dickinson discography with these song-cycles in which he appears as pianist, setting poems from James Joyce’s two collections of verse; both heard in recordings which were first broadcast in the 1980s and now rescued from the BBC archives.

What’s the music like?

The major rediscovery here is an almost complete traversal of Chamber Music by Geoffrey Molyneaux Palmer (1992-1957), English born but long resident in Dublin where he worked as church organist and composer. Despite the author’s enthusiastic endorsement, Palmer was never to finish the project, despite his leaving blank pages for those four poems (Nos. 12, 29, 32 and 33) still awaiting music. Through the tenacity of Myra Teicher Russel, the manuscript was located at Southern Illinois University in 1981 with a studio broadcast on BBC Radio 3 seven years later (preceded, as this author recalls, by a fascinating introduction on the Music Weekly programme). Thanks to the foresight of BBC producer Jillian White, that broadcast was subsequently archived and can finally enjoy a welcome if belated commercial release.

In stylistic terms, Palmer settings are very much ‘turn of the century’ in their melding of an inherently English lyricism with harmonic subtleties redolent of Fauré or early Debussy. As ordered by Joyce’s brother Stanislaus, these 36 poems pursue an ‘innocence to experience’ trajectory via a relationship which is tentatively envisaged before being passionately lived then regretfully abandoned. Throughout the sequence, Palmer is acutely attentive to those flights of fancy with which Joyce opens out his poems’ expressive potency – tailoring his response to the intricacies of the text at hand while running several songs together so as to accentuate cumulative intensity overall. A pity the climactic XXXIII remained unset, but    the composer’s response to the stark seascape of XXXVI yields a suitably plangent close.

Also included is The Joyce Book, 13 settings taken from Joyce’s subsequent collection Pomes Penyeach which was published in Paris in 1927 and accorded musical treatment thanks to the prompting of Irish editor Herbert Hughes. That the resultant settings included two American, a French and an Italian composer confirms the international standing Joyce by then enjoyed; further underlined by the deluxe edition with which this collection was issued in 1933, a year after its public premiere in London. Stylistically the settings are as diverse as the composers represented: among the most distinctive are the lilting wistfulness of Hughes’s She weeps over Rahoon, easeful rapture of Arthur Bliss’s Simples and suffused ecstasy of Bernard van Dieren’s A Prayer on which both this ‘cycle’ and Joyce’s collection reach their close.

Does it all work?

It does, given the expressive consistency of Palmer’s settings as also the diversity of those in the later miscellany. Martyn Hill was among the leading lyric tenors of his generation, with Meriel Dickinson seldom equalled for her conveying of the emotional sense behind the text.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, not least when Peter Dickinson is an insightful accompanist and provides the detailed commentaries, while the sound has come up well in remastering (the latter collection a shade reverberant). Required listening, not only for admirers of Joyce or the English song tradition.



You can discover more about this release at the Heritage Records website, where you can also purchase the recording.


You can read about Peter Dickinson at his website