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The Flatterer - Piano Music of Cecile Chaminade / Joanne Polk

Release Date: 09/09/2014
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30037
Composer:  Cécile Louise Chaminade Performer:  Joanne Polk Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo

Coming of age in Paris in the second half of the19th century, Cécile Chaminade’s major models were Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Gounod, Bizet, and Franck—all renowned composers of serious Romantic music. When she reached her own compositional maturity in the 1880s, she made her first mark writing in genres associated with these recognized masters. Yet her true voice emerged later, writing smaller character pieces for piano. Her so-called “salon” pieces are the same kind of short works that Brahms and Chopin made popular — many are true virtuoso works, equal in technical difficulty to any of the concert etudes of Chopin or Liszt. Based on this small collection of Chaminade’s music, we can only wonder why she has had to wait so long to be Read more admitted to the pantheon of great French Romantic composers.

Joanne Polk, noted pianist and champion of music by female composers, makes her debut on the Steinway label with an irresistible collection of Chaminade’s piano works. Recorded by Grammy-winning producer Steven Epstein, the album celebrates an underrated composer whose music deserves a wide audience.

Album Credits:
Recorded January 6–8, 2014 at the Concert Hall of the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York.
Produced and Recorded by Steven Epstein

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Oberlander Group
Piano: Steinway Model D (Hamburg)

"Joanne Polk captures the technical splendor and passion of Cécile Chaminade’s music as well as Steinway piano's incomparable sound with absolute brilliance." -- Paula Edelstein, AXS Entertainment

Everyone needs at least one disc of Chaminade’s piano music, and this disc would make an excellent choice. Yes, she composed a great deal of “salon” music, but what matters is that she did it very well. These pieces are consistently attractive, and they never try to be more than what they are. Sample the Étude romantique, a piece full of virtuosity sentiment–and it’s not a minute too long. Clearly, Chaminade was more than just “a woman composer.” She needs no special pleading.

Joanne Polk plays all of these pieces with the necessary virtuosity, lightness and élan. There are some more imposing works here too. It’s not all fluff. The Piano Sonata in C Minor, in three movements, manages to project a sense of seriousness without turning pretentious, while the beefy Étude symphonique and the four Études de concert, Op. 35 achieve a genuinely cumulative impact. Credit Polk also for an especially well-chosen program, with lighter character pieces enfolding the series of etudes and the Sonata–a nice patter of tension and release.

As usual with this series, the piano is extremely well recorded, with plenty of presence but no harshness. The instrument’s upper register is particularly well caught. A very enjoyable release.

-- David Hurwitz,

"Polk has been an advocate of female composers for nearly 30 years. This is her first CD for the Steinway label, and it is tip to the high standards I have come to expect: superior sound, excellent booklet, repertoire a little outside of the mainstream, and of course, brilliant pianism.

The Piano Sonata is a wonderful composition, inventive and well-constructed to be sure, but a solid and satisfying romantic piano work. We tend to view Chaminade through the lens of the small piece. Polk, based on her performance here, would be completely at home with any of the piano sonatas by the great romantic composers. Her technique and interpretive abilities bring Chaminade's sonata to life in 17 pleasant minutes. It should be heard far more often.

The Etudes display a wide range of piano techniques and are akin to the concert-level etudes by Chopin and Liszt. These are not run-of-the-mill piano exercises. Chaminade was a melodist as well as an excellent pianist, and that's what sets her etudes above most. It takes someone of Polk's abilities to bring these off. The character pieces lighten the mood effectively and round off this exceptional program."

-- Harrington, American Record Guide [January/February 2015]

French composer Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) is largely forgotten today, but in her own time her popularity extended beyond France to the United States, where some 200 Chaminade clubs ("C - Concentrated & Concerted Effort; H - Harmony of Spirit & Work; A - Artistic Ideals; M - Musical Merit Maintained; I - Inspiration; N - Notes (every kind except Promissory); A - Ardor & Aspiration; D - Devotion to Duty; E - Earnest Endeavor") flourished in the early part of the 20th century. Her music, rooted in Mendelssohn and Schumann with a dash of Lisztian virtuosity, is uneven but ripe for rediscovery. Chaminade wrote music in various genres, but she was herself a touring pianist, and she probably put the most of herself into piano compositions. The Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 21, is a major addition to the virtuoso repertory and could profitably be programmed with the Liszt Piano Sonata in B minor. But the most individual and charming piece is the one that gives the album its title, and it's a mild disappointment that more of these short character pieces aren't included. They're dispensed with in favor of big concert etudes that certainly showcase the skills of pianist Joanne Polk, but they're less emotionally distinctive works. Still, there's plenty of competent and forgotten music here, and the beautifully appropriate ambience of the Concert Hall of the Performing Arts, Purchase College, State University of New York, is an advantage over previous Chaminade releases. Chaminade also wrote a good deal of music for women's chorus that someone ought to unearth sometime. At any rate, this is a welcome addition to the small but growing corpus of recordings of Chaminade's music.

-- AllMusic Guide
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