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CD Review: Robert Sattler

Robert Sattler Plays the Bayan

Robert Sattler, bayan

with Vyacheslav Semyonov, bayan
Natalia Semyonova, domra

the Osipov Orchestra of Russian Folk Instruments
Nikolai Kalinin, conductor


Nikolai Chaikin: Sarabande
Jacques Ibert: Le Petit Ane Blanc (transcription)
Vyacheslav Semyonov: Belolitsa, Kruglolitsa (White-Faced, Round-Faced)
Semyonov: Kalina Krasnaya (Guilder Rose)
Semyonov: Children's Suite No. 2

Vladimir Chernikov: The Wide Steppe
Anatoly Shalaev: Russian Snowstorm
Albin Repnikov: Capriccio -- live recording with orchestra
Semyonov: Don Cossack Rhapsody (finale movement) -- live recording with orchestra

Total Time: 40:41
Released in 1996

label: Sattler Associates, Inc.
PO Box 57086
Atlanta, GA 30343-1086
phone: 1-800-284-1364 (U.S. only)

Review by Henry Doktorski:

This album is exceptional; it is (to my knowledge) the first CD of original music for the bayan written by Russian composers (with the notable exception of the Ibert piece) performed by an American artist. I hope that this recording will help dispel the current (and unfortunately accurate) view that the United States is lacking in classical accordionists of concert calibre, at least compared to the Eastern and Western European nations.

Robert Sattler is amazing; although he is a successful businessman by occupation, his playing sounds almost like that of a full-time professional concert artist. I am simply delighted that, despite the lack of sufficient financial remuneration necessary to eke out a living as a concert bayanist in the United States (considering the specialized audience for the instrument and its consequent lack of employment opportunities in this country), Mr. Sattler was never-the-less able to find the artistic and financial resources to record this CD.

Robert Sattler is well-known to American concert accordion aficionados. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri Conservatory of Music in Kansas City (one of two universities in the United States which still offer degree programs in accordion performance) where he studied with Joan Sommers. In 1976 he was the U.S. champion in the Accordion Teachers Guild competition and represented the United States in the Coupe Mondiale (World Cup) competition where he received the bronze medal.

Today Sattler is on the board of the Accordion Teachers Guild and a key performer in the Atlanta Balalaika Society and is presently continuing his bayan studies with Professor Vyacheslav Semyonov of the Gnessin Institute of Music in Moscow. In this recording, we hear his debut performance as soloist with the Osipov Russian Folk Instruments Orchestra on the stage of the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow.

About the music: Nikolai Chaikin (b. 1915) is one of the first composers to write concert music for the accordion. His Sarabande comes from his Concert Suite (1962), a four-movement work for solo bayan.

Le Petit Ane Blanc, originally written for piano by Jacques Ibert (1890-1962), is a well-known piece famous for its musical portrayal of the braying of a donkey.

White-Faced Round-Faced, Guilder Rose and Children's Suite No. 2, by the Russian bayanist/composer Vyacheslav Semyonov (Sattler's bayan teacher), are based on Russian folk songs and popular melodies. In 1995 Semyonov was honored with the People's Artist of Russia award by president Boris Yeltsin in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the arts, exemplified by his concert bayan artistry and original compositions for the instrument.

His incredibly beautiful setting of a popular song by Jan Frenkel -- Guilder Rose -- is my favorite piece on the CD. After a series of variations, the theme returns pianissimo at the ending accompanied by a pedal point on the raised sub-dominant: very striking and attractive. I was so charmed by this piece that I set my CD player on repeat and played it over and over again.

The Wide Steppe by Vladimir Chernikov (1947-1994) is written for two bayans and domra (a Russian stringed folk instrument). The second bayan and domra parts were performed by Sattler's own teacher and his wife Natalia.

Russian Snowstorm, a duet for two bayans by Anatoly Shalaev (b. 1925), is a descriptive character piece.

The final two pieces on this CD, Capriccio by Albin Repnikov (b. 1932) and Don Cossack Rhapsody (by Semyonov) feature Robert Sattler as soloist with the Osipov Orchestra of Moscow -- a Russian folk instruments orchestra founded in 1919 which consists of over one hundred professional domra, balalaika, bayan, woodwind and percussion players. The Cossack Rhapsody is an impressive conclusion to the CD; unfortunately sometimes the sound of the bayan seemed to get lost in the orchestra.

Although Sattler is not yet what I would consider a great virtuoso player (like his teacher), he is, none-the-less, a fine performer and deserves international recognition.

The cover art is superb; a painting by Joey Potter which has a remarkable resemblance to Sattler and the CD booklet notes are informative and in English. I wish Sattler would have increased the length of this CD. In my opinion forty minutes is not long enough; the album is seems to end too quickly. Why not record the entire Chaikin Suite? The Prelude, Fugue and Scherzo deserve to be heard along with the Sarabande.

Another criticism: the track numbers are screwed up. Track number one (believe it or not) is four seconds of silence (intended to allow the listener enough time to walk to their sofa and sit down after inserting the disc in their CD player). Unfortunately, the track numbers are not printed with the titles on the back cover, so unless you already know these pieces, you may get lost and not know which piece is playing. (I had to write personally to Sattler to find out what which track numbers went with which pieces.)

Despite these few inconveniences, I highly recommend "Robert Sattler Plays the Bayan" for all lovers of classical (actually romantic) twentieth-century Russian bayan music. This album is a fitting tribute from a serious student to his qualified teacher and I'm sure that professor Semyonov is extremely proud of his pupil's accomplishment.

P.S.It is with great sadness that I announce that Robert Sattler passed away on December 19, 1998. This CD is a beautiful and fitting tribute to the artistry of a great man.

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