Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trios: in g; in a.
DB PRODUCTIONS 149 (47:12)
This appears to be the second recording by the KMW Trio, a chamber group consisting of three Scandinavian women of middle age: pianist Ann-Sofi Klingberg, violinist Annette Mannheimer, and cellist Sara Wijk. Their first disc,
featured the music of Andrea Tarrodi, Ylva Skog, and Britta Byström (DB Classics
133), but here they turn the clock back from the 21st century to the 19th in order to promote the music of Cécile Chaminade.
Chaminade, born in 1857, was extraordinarily lucky among women composers of her time. While so many others had to struggle for not only acceptance but respect, among them Amy Beach and Ethel Smyth, Chaminade, like the Swedish composer Elfrida Andrée (1841–1929), was an exception to this rule. Yet, one needs to note, the Chaminade compositions that made her name, and which audiences clamored to hear, were songs and short piano works, the kind of music that the white classical establishment deemed “feminine” enough to gain acceptance, while these superb piano trios often languished in the background.
Enter this intrepid chamber group, which has taken as much of a shine to Chaminade as pianist Joanne Polk has to Beach and Fanny Mendelssohn. And thank goodness that it has, because these performances of Chaminade’s piano trios really bristle with energy, and in fact make an extraordinarily strong case for their being part of the standard chamber literature. The first trio, written in 1881, has but one movement that is not of exceptional creativity or brilliance, and that is the Allegro final movement. Even the annotator, Paul-Christian Sjöberg, admits that the final movement, though giving “an effective twist” to the work, is “somewhat stricter” in form. No matter, however; the same may be said for many a piece by Brahms or other male composers contemporary with Chaminade, and the extraordinary first movement immediately bespeaks of a master composer. It is bursting with ideas, extraordinarily effective in its use of counterpoint and, even more striking, the almost agitated conversation that she sets up between the three instruments. This trio, in fact, breaks new ground for its time in moving away from a conversation between the three instruments, as one hears in Brahms and Mendelssohn, rather picking up on some of the musical language of Beethoven’s middle quartets. Sometimes it’s the cello, sometimes the piano, that plays a solo discourse while the other instruments merely accompany or drop silent; there are multiple chromatic harmonic shifts, usually upward, which give the music a continually restless (and energetic) feel. A melodic snippet in major flits in and out, almost as if whistled by a passerby; the primary feel to the movement is set by a coruscating string figure that repeats itself in the various keys through which the music passes.
The second movement, a deeply felt Andante in the relative major (B?), is actually built around an extension of the melodic fragment from the first movement, fleshed out and later developed in a most intriguing way. Chaminade keeps rhythmic interest up by keeping the piano playing, for the most part, a steady rhythm while the strings use whole and half tones quite effectively. The emotional effect on the listener is almost that of a wave of sound that ebbs and flows on the mind, now nudged by the piano, now allowed to pause or break on a rock.
Sjöberg claims that the Scherzo bears a stylistic resemblance to Mendelssohn, and there is some truth to that, but only in the quicksilver rhythm of the piano, which is actually playing in double-time. Otherwise, what one hears above and around the coruscating piano part is yet another impassioned, lyrical, yet chromatically charged melody that sounds much more like a scherzo of Brahms than “a Mendelssohnian image of playing fairies” (spare me!). I should, at this point, make some mention of the overall effect of the KMW Trio. All three musicians generally elicit bright tones and sharply etched sonorities from their instruments, which helps focus the listener on the musical progression. Not a note of the intricate interplay or counterpoint is lost on the listener, and the sharp focus of the sonics also helps in this. Given their emotional commitment to this music, the trio makes something interesting out of the “ordinary” final movement, giving it much the same energy and impetus as the first and third movements.
Pianist Klingberg then plays a four-minute
or, as it translates from French, a “Swedish mazurka.” Written in 1891, this was more typical of Chaminade’s core repertoire, short piano works in a Chopin-Mendelssohn manner. Klingberg gives the music more backbone in its performance than usual, emphasizing the unusual (again) harmonic twists, but in its short journey from start to finish it is decidedly lightweight fare—exactly what the male-dominated classical world wanted and expected of its female participants.
Happily, this recital concludes with the
inor Trio from 1887. The casual listener, unaware of Chaminade’s life or the struggles and challenges she had to overcome, might be forgiven for being shocked that this was written four years before
so mature, bold, and adventurous does it sound. In fact, in the first movement, Chaminade manages to work around or slightly evade the core tonality in passages for the strings that elide daringly through harmonic jumps and transpositions. Here, too, Chaminade creates a long-lined melody of exquisite originality that intrigues the ear without becoming an earworm, and because this melody is so cleverly written she is able to pick it apart, using fragments of it to change both key and rhythm in the development section. I hear in this music a stronger influence of Franck than of Brahms, though in a way Chaminade fuses the two through her Gallic sensibility. This is even more of a High Romantic trio than the one in
inor, yet again—in the development section—she channels mid-to-late-period Beethoven in her rhythmic-harmonic modulations. Indeed, Chaminade perfectly fuses French and German Romanticism in this piece. It is the work of a master composer.
The slow Lento movement achieves a state of calm, drawing the listener in to a deep meditation in which her command of string writing is evident in every bar. Moreover, the solo piano passage in this movement, though built around a light theme, has a deeper feeling to it than her
nice though it is. Sjöberg is correct in saying that this movement is “almost unequalled in French music.” In the finale, Chaminade jumps right in with dramatic, chromatic flourishes which alternate between
inor, and F Major. Indeed, there is almost a Wagnerian feeling of unsettled tonality that is exceptionally rare for French chamber music of her time. At times, Chaminade relies on typical scale passagework for connective tissue, but such moments are rare. Mostly, she is flying over a musical canyon without a net. This is certainly music of exceptional creativity, and it makes you wonder how much more she could have written had she stayed with chamber music for a few more years.
Alas, we’ll never know, because what audiences wanted to hear her play were lots of little piano vignettes. After all, that’s “real” women’s music, don’t you know. A pity … but we do have this CD to prove that the sum of Cécile Chaminade’s music was greater than what we are used to.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Mazurk' suédoise, Op. 58 by Cécile Louise Chaminade
Ann-Sofï Klingberg (Piano)
Date of Recording: 10/23/2011
Venue: Västerås Konserthus
Length: 3 Minutes 55 Secs.
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello no 2, Op. 34 by Cécile Louise Chaminade
Written: 1887; France
Date of Recording: 06/16/2010
Venue: Swedish Broadcasting Cooperation, Stockh
Length: 21 Minutes 10 Secs.
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