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Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
Piano Trio No.1 in G minor, Op.11 (1880) [21:12]
Piano Trio No.2 in A minor, Op.34 (1886) [23:09]
Trois Morceaux for violin and piano, Op.31 [15:29]
Capriccio for violin and piano, Op.18 [5:21]
Romanza appassionata for violin and piano [3:39]
Sommeil d’enfant for cello and piano [3:31]
Trio Parnassus (Johann Blanchard (piano), Julia Galić (violin), Michael Groß (cello))
rec. 2016, Konzerthaus der Abteikirche Marienmünster, Nordrhein-Westfalen.
MDG 3032002-2 [72:32]

Record labels seem to be slowly getting round to Cécile Chaminade, and it is not before time. Just this month, Ian Lace has reviewed in glowing terms a new Dutton release of two of her orchestral works, including a full-scale ballet, Callirhoë (review).

I have seen her described as a composer of insubstantial salon pieces, and undoubtedly many of her works would fit into that category, some of the fillers here, for example. However, when circumstances arose where she could focus on more weighty subjects, she showed that she was up to the task, as evidenced by the aforementioned ballet, which was performed over two hundred times.

In my Piano Trio Survey, I commented on the quality of these two trios. If you have not heard either of them before, and can access some samples, I suggest that you start with the slow movement of the second, which is exceptionally beautiful. As you see from the header, they were written fairly close together, and thus have more similarities than differences in style, but the second is the better, more original work. While she has her own voice, they are undoubtedly influenced by Mendelssohn and Schumann, but with a French imprint.

The booklet cover describes the remaining works as for “violin, cello and piano” which rather got my attention as I hadn’t known of any other trios of hers, but as you see above, they are all duos. Here the salon music tag is certainly apt, and they are no more than sweet trifles, enjoyed whilst heard, and forgotten fairly soon afterwards.

Trio Parnassus have been filling gaps in the trio repertoire for more than a decade, and for that, I am in their debt. However, as I have said in reviews of their releases in the past, I find their enterprise more rewarding than their performances. They strike me as rather uninvolving and somewhat heavy-handed in places. I seem to be in the minority here, though: my colleague Jim Westhead was very impressed by this current recording, and I have seen an even more glowing review elsewhere.

This is only the third release to include both trios, the previous being the Tzigane Piano Trio (ASV) and an ensemble led by Ann-Sofi Klingberg (dB Productions). Sadly, the former which has the best performances by far is no longer available, not having been reissued by Presto as yet (hint, hint), and the latter has problems in both intonation and interpretation. That leaves Trio Parnassus as the best available option if you want both trios, but only want one purchase. There are better performances of individual trios - the Rembrandt Trio (Dorian) are almost as good as the Tziganes in the first, and Trio Chausson (Mirare) are standouts in the second – but you will need to dip into your wallet twice.

Production values on this MDG release - not an SACD - are perfectly fine: the sound is good, the booklet notes illuminating. I would like to be more positive about the performances, and it does at least provide a much better single disc option for these underappreciated works.

David Barker

Previous review: Jim Westhead



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