Despite her extensive portfolio of compositions Cécile Chaminade’s music has only ever occupied a peripheral place in the repertoire. It would be fanciful to believe that had her series of piano discs made for G&T in Paris in the first decade of the twentieth-century been of her more meaty works then her reputation would have survived longer. Those 78s tend to valued more for her glittering pianism, and its historical context, than for the salon-orientated pieces she recorded. That is where discs such as this one can offer a broader perspective, focusing as this one does on large-scale piano works such as the Op.21 Sonata and the series of Etudes, Op.35.
The Sonata was published in 1895 and shows strong elements of late-Romanticism at work, some influenced by Brahmsian syntax in part. The early arrival of a three-part fugue sets off alarm bells, though, given the academic-seeming ploy but in compensation Chaminade develops a nice line in ripe chording later on. It’s an attractively shaped work with a warm slow movement, albeit somewhat protected and repetitious. The finale is fulsome, vigorous and somewhat Schumannesque in places, though this movement is actually also the fourth of her Op.35 Etudes – wisely not played in the sequence later. In the etude it is marked Appassionato, whereas in the sonata it’s merely an ‘Allegro’. It’s not quite clear from the booklet notes if there was already a finale which Chaminade withdrew, substituting the Etude, or whether she simply took the Etude in default of anything else.
The Etude symphonique is a most attractive, one that Jonathan Plowright recorded in an album dedicated to works dedicated to Paderewski. Hints again here of Schumann and some too of Chopin, but Chaminade’s finesse is more audible in this kind of work than in the somewhat more strained nature of the Sonata. The set of Etudes, Op.35 shows her powers of characterisation in still more engaging light, where the stormy wind-tossed central panel of Automne is prettily put into context by the clement outer sections. Fileuse is deft and rippling and in the best French virtuosi tradition whilst the Tarantelle shows us Chaminade the purveyor of late nineteenth-century concert bravura. The virtuoso elements of her music are not elided in this recital, such as the energico virtuosity of the Etude Pathetique, Op.124 or the witty Parisian brio of the Etude humoristique, Op.138. It’s good news that Johann Blanchard, who plays on a fine sounding 1901 Steinway, has dug out a previously unrecorded piece to end – Souvenir d’enfance, a tranquil way to end a most attractively recorded and insightfully played recital.