Callirhoë – Ballet Symphonique; Concertstück for piano and orchestra
Victor Sangiorgio (piano); BBC Concert Orchestra/Martin Yates
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7339 (hybrid CD/SACD)
In 1895, The Musical Times in reviewing this Concertstück played by the composer heard influences of Wagner, Liszt and Grieg; Lewis Foreman in the liner notes to this disc adds Dvořák and Saint-Saëns. Take your pick!
The Musical Times was on the money in continuing ‘if Miss Chaminade is not original she is certainly eclectic’. The piano part is full of the vertiginous scampering we find in so much 19th-century French piano music, to which Victor Sangiorgio does full justice; but perhaps Cécile Chaminade’s main talent lay in her orchestration, which both here and in the ballet is unfailingly bright and well‑balanced.
The problems lie in the substance – or what there is of it. My answer to Foreman’s query as to why, after these and other orchestral works and even an opéra comique, Chaminade turned to songs and small piano pieces, would be that maybe those in authority simply weren’t impressed by her more ambitious offerings. I have to say that for me nearly 80 minutes music without a decent tune is hard going, and after half an hour or so of her ‘ballet symphonique’ Callirhoë I came to the sad conclusion that her responses parallel painting by numbers: a mazurka, a sacred dance, a storm scene, a warlike dance, a pastoral scene – they all conform to a familiar pattern, and through them all runs one four-bar phrase after another.
Also in track 18 at 1: 40 an entirely foreign chord briefly interrupts the discourse – left over, I would imagine, from some earlier recording.