La Belle Excentrique could just as easily refer to the mildly eccentric French soprano Patricia Petibon as to Satie’s fantasie sérieuse for orchestra, two movements of which, arranged for piano four hands, grace this very enjoyable, very French musical potpourri. But don’t be fooled: Petibon, whose intelligence is as impressive as the formidable coloratura technique which served her so well in the baroque repertoire which for a time was her core business, also serves up some exquisitely sung chansons and mélodies by masters such as Léo Ferré and Gabrielle Fauré.
There is plenty of light here – but also plenty of shade. Such extremes are even found within the Satie pieces which make up the bulk of the instrumental music: witness pianists Susan Manoff – Petibon’s regular accompanist – and David Levi having a ball with Satie’s Cancan grand-mondain from La Belle Excentrique before Manoff surfaces again with a beautiful account of the same composer’s neo-baroque Désespoir agreeable.
Some of the vocal works are enhanced by cello – Satie’s famous waltz Je te veux (with cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca), violin – Ferré’s gorgeous On s’aimera (Nemanja Radulovic is the violinist) and even, as is the case with Manuel Rosenthal’s dreamlike Pêcheur de Lune, tabla (courtesy of percussionist François Verly).
But Petibon’s the star of this show, even when Olivier Py threatens to steal the limelight in flirtatious duets like Ferré’s saucy chanson Jolie môme. One minute Petibon is letting her hair down in nonsense songs like Poulenc’s Ba, Be, Bi, Bo, Bu from La Courte Paille and Satie’s La statue de bronze, the next she’s exhibiting the most exquisite restraint in mélodies such as Fauré’s Les berceaux and Reynaldo Hahn’s Pholoé from his Études latines. A highly imaginative programme executed with flair and just a dash of lunacy.