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Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
Callirhoë, Ballet Symphonique (1888) [61.16]
Concertstück for piano and orchestra (1888) [16.30]
Victor Sangiorgio (piano)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Martin Yates
rec. Watford Colosseum, 2016

Cécile Chaminade is principally remembered for her significant output of salon music: some 200 piano pieces and 135 songs. Orchestral works, as recorded here, were not usually her forte. But in 1888 three such works were first performed within the space of one month – the two recorded here and, on the same day as her Concertstück was premiered, so too was her dramatic choral symphony, Les Amazones.

After a quietly mysterious, almost eerie, opening the Concertstück bursts into red-blooded bombast; the sort of material that recalls Liszt and Wagner. But this Concertstück covers numerous styles and moods. The author of the album’s notes, Lewis Foreman, states that it is “notable for its bold and typically romantic French orchestration” and writes that it “reminded him of early Delius, especially the Piano Concerto”. I would not argue with either point yet I think I can also detect influences of the Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos and even Mahler. In addition to those composers there is something of Dvořák too. Anyway, melody abounds and the whole is pleasing enough. The work breaks down into some dozen individual episodes covering numerous moods varying from magic, spooky fairy-tale-like material to the heroic and grand-gestured, with the soloist tending to impel the music forwards. Yates and Sangiorgio give committed spirited performances.

Lewis Foreman has little to say about the delightful, melodic music for Chaminade’s Ballet Symphonique, Callirhoë. Instead over nearly three pages, he relates the complicated, convoluted story of the ballet, which made me wonder if Lewis had actually contributed a text about the music as well as the ballet’s narrative – only to find there was no room in the 12-page album booklet for a musical discussion – or was he in favour of bringing the music’s story to the ballet world’s attention to encourage the development of an actual staging? Certainly that would have been a worthy motive, for this music is charming and tuneful. All credit must go to Martin Yates who has painstakingly researched and edited the complete ballet music from various original scores. By repute the ballet received over 200 performances. An orchestral suite of four movements was published two years later in 1890. But as Lewis remarks, “There has been no trace of any further complete performances of the music until this recording”.

The story relates how through many vicissitudes, Alcmaeon wins the heart of his captive princess, Callirhoë, whose demure and aloof personality, taken to excess, poses all sorts of problems including invoking the ire of the goddess Venus who has Callirhoë changed into a statue. But as in all good fairy tales all ends happily.

Of the 22 numbers comprising this ballet, I found I had ticked a good half of them for comment; far too many of them, which would have made this review unnecessarily long. So I will restrict myself to just a few. The opening Prelude is a beguiling pastorale, the Scherzo that immediately follows is intriguing, not just because it is bouncily attractive, but because it uncannily anticipates the mature orchestral style of Eric Coates. No. 8 has an imposing pomp with its brass chorales and fanfares. The ‘Pas des Cymbales’ has a sinuous, sensual Arabian-like touch and one might think of both Chabrier and Saint-Saëns here. Then ‘Pas Guerrir’ has a war-like dominance, contrasting with the demure, feminine delicacy of the immediately following ‘Variation (Callirhoë Seul).’ There are attractive solos: sweet for fiddle and imposing for the trumpet in the often anguished dramatic Musique de Scène. The three final numbers all stand out: the ‘Danse Pastorale’ is lively, then charmingly sentimental with a disarming delicacy; the Musique de Scène that is number 21 is tenderly romantic with a lovely solo for violin; while the final regal Waltz sparkles as it makes its way to a deliriously happy conclusion.

Callirhoë is charming, a real find. Ballet producers might well be persuaded to have it choreographed and add it to their repertoire – and the Concertstück is great fun.

Ian Lace
Callirhoë, Ballet Symphonique, track listing:-
Prélude [3.18]
Scherzo [1.29]
Pas des Amphores [3.37]
Entrée d’Alcmaeon [2.31]
Pas des Écharpes [1.53]
Pas du Voile [2.22]
Orage (Musique de Scène) 1.57]
Marche Sacrèe [4.08]
Musique de Scène [1.43]
Scherzetto [2.05]
Pas des Cymbales [5.18]
Divertissement (modéré de mazurka) [2.45]
Pas Guerrier [1.03]
Variation (Callirhoë Seul) [2.41]
Danse Orientale (Venus et Les Amours) [2.16]
Valse [1.59]
Musique de Scène [1.00]
Ditto [3.42]
Scène Pastorale [3.05]
Danse Pastorale [4.25]
Musique de Scène [3.00]
Valse Finale [5.43]



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