Chaminade

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Chaminade
LABELS: MDG Scene
WORKS: Sonata in C minor, Op. 21; Etude symphonique Op. 28; Etudes de concert, Op. 35; Etude mélodique, Op. 18; Etude pathétique, Op 124; Etude romantique, Op. 132; Etude humoristique, Op. 138; Etude scolastique, Op. 139; Souvenir d’enfance
PERFORMER: Johann Blanchard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 904 1871-6

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In the 1955 edition of his Oxford Companion to Music, Percy Scholes described Chaminade’s short piano pieces as having ‘no intricacy of texture, no elaboration of form, and no depth of feeling’, but as being ‘so tasteful in conception and execution as to disarm the highbrow critic’. It seems probable that Johann Blanchard wanted to counter this condescending attitude by turning to her more substantial works, notably her C minor Sonata, published in 1895. He does an honest and technically competent job. The question is, do more intricate textures and elaborate forms add any depth of feeling?

Sadly, the answer must be ‘no’. I can’t think that having Benjamin Godard as her composition teacher was the best of starts, and all that more ambitious pieces provide is a more overt, and indeed tedious reliance on tricks of the trade – particularly sequences in which you can often guess the details of the next 20 seconds or so. Above all, this music is relentlessly sentimental. No surprise, then, that it was blown away by the new music of the 1920s and that the poor composer had to sell her country villa. Despite Blanchard’s efforts, a return to Chaminade’s glory days seems unlikely.

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Roger Nichols