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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 Read more to be 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,

Cecile Chaminade (1857?1944) published more than 400 compositions. She performed widely in France, Great Britain, and the United States, mostly her own works. Sales of sheet music, piano rolls, and even a few early recordings (Pierian 42, Sept/Oct 2012, arc) helped make her quite financially independent. She began writing music at an early age, and by the time she was in her 20s she was a mature composer, producing serious, largescale works including her only piano sonata (1880) recorded here. That she was a fine pianist is clearly demonstrated in her etudes, written all through her life. Polk plays a selection from Op. 28 (1884) to Op. 132 (1909)?a span of 25 years. Perhaps Chaminade?s most prolific and best-known genre was the character piece?much along the same lines as Chopin, Schumann, and Brahms. This disc?s title work and two others complete this collection.

Polk?s 2-disc set of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel piano music was quite favorably reviewed (Newport 60180, Nov/Dec 2010). She has been an advocate of female composers for nearly 30 years. Her recordings of Amy Beach on Arabesque were also favorably reviewed in these pages (Nov/Dec 1997, July/Aug 1998, Mar/Apr 1999, July/Aug 2000). This is her first CD for the Steinway label, and it is up 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 (I have performed several of her songs and short piano pieces over the years). 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 runof- 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.

-- 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

The pianist Joanne Polk has been a noted advocate of such unsung women composers as Amy Beach and Clara Wieck Schumann. Now, Polk, who teaches piano at the Manhattan School of Music, turns her attention to another woman whose work has been frequently overlooked: Cécile Chaminade (1857?1944). While French classical music often followed the modernist paths of the 20th century, Chaminade focused on charming, often nonchalant character pieces (of which she wrote over 400). Some of her best works are concert etudes, several included here. Also included are several salon miniatures including ?The Flatterer,? ?The Fauns? and the wistful ?Bygone Days,? all of which are short and lyric. Polk plays them with a straightforward manner, never getting too swept up in rubato or overdone phrasing.


Pianist Joanne Polk is renowned for her recordings and performances of exceptional repertoire by such female composers as Amy Beach, Judith Lang Zaimont, Clara Wieck Schumann, and Fanny Mendelssohn. With the release of The Flatterer: Piano Music of Cécile Chaminade (Steinway & Sons, 30037), Joanne Polk continues her exploration of great piano works composed by females. Her program consists of 14 character pieces?sonata, concert études, salon music?written by Cécile Chaminade, the great French Romantic, during the 18th century.

Cécile Chaminade?s Piano Sonata, Op 21 established her reputation as a young composer. Joanne Polk performs its three movements with the erudite sensitivity, technical glitz, and virtuosity she has become known for throughout North America, Europe and Australia.

La Lisonjera (?The Flatterer?), Op 50, Les Sylvains (?The Fauns?), and Autrefois (?Bygone Days?) are all short, lyrical, picturesque pieces that recall Mendelssohn?s Songs Without Words, or in the case of Autrefois (?Bygone Days?), the transparent textures and delicate ornamentation of Ravel or Satie. All three salon pieces capture a refreshingly Classical elegance and charm that distinguishes so much French music of the late 19th century. Polk?s interpretations of these three works are splendid reminders of the compositional integrity of Cécile Chaminade as well as Polk?s amazing keyboard technique.

The five concert études performed here are true virtuosic works that go beyond the mere exercise of specific aspects of finger technique. Joanne Polk captures the leggiero perpetual motion, delicate pianistic filigree, and melodic spontaneity of these beautiful woks. Four additional ?characteristic? etudes feature Polk?s noteworthy technique that pairs simultaneous accompaniment and melody in one hand; significant use of hand crossing, complex cross rhythms that contrast patterns. Overall, Joanne Polk captures the technical splendor and passion of Cécile Chaminade?s music as well as Steinway piano's incomparable sound with absolute brilliance. --

The appearance of this disc devoted to the French composer and pianist Cécile Chaminade inspires mixed emotions?joy that this overlooked musical figure is finally getting some recognition, combined with disappointment that her music isn?t being presented in a better light. Born in 1857, Chaminade was steeped in the world of late French Romanticism, which was already well out of fashion by the time her career began to flower (she died in 1944); stylistic matters combined with garden-variety sexism conspired to keep her work in the shadows for decades. Yet the music here?which includes an early piano sonata, several demanding etudes and a variety of short character pieces?is both charming and strongly crafted, with plenty of melodic vitality and a compelling (if conservative) harmonic palette. Unfortunately, Joanne Polk?s clangorous, heavy-handed playing robs the music of much of its beauty; the dynamic levels are loud, the miking louder and the rhythms seem to be glancing over at Stravinsky. A little more subtlety and discretion would have made for a stronger case.

-- San Francisco Chronicle

Chaminade?s works continue to be marvelous revelations, especially in the hands of a virtuoso like Polk. She has dedicated a significant part of her playing career to shedding performance light on the works of female musicians. Chaminade?s works, so often dimissed as merely decorative or charming, are shown here to have depth, and incredible technical demands within the beauty. For anyone who loves great piano music.

-- The WSCL Blog

The scale is much, much smaller, far more intimate, on a new Steinway & Sons recording of piano music by Cécile Chaminade (1857?1944), performed by Joanne Polk. This is a combination of avowed salon music, finger exercises, and one large-scale work designed with considerable seriousness: Sonata in C minor, Op 21 (1893). In traditional three-movement form, this is an earnest work that indulges in mild chromaticism and fairly typical late-Romantic emotional exaggeration?well-crafted but scarcely riveting. The études performed by Polk, even if intended primarily as developmental tools for performers, are more intriguing, showing that Chaminade had considerable skill as a miniaturist. Four excerpts from Études de Concert, Op 35 (1886) comprise Scherzo, Automne, Fileuse (Spinner) and Impromptu. Also here are individual pieces: Étude Symphonique, Op 28 (1884), Étude Mélodique, Op 118 (1906), Étude Pathétique, Op 124 (also 1906), and Étude Romantique, Op 132 (1909). These are all attractive works that can fairly be called pièces caracteristiques, reflecting not only virtuoso requirements but also the stances or emotions their titles are intended to evoke. But they are not avowed salon music, as are the other three pieces here: La Lisonjera (The Flatterer), Op 50 (1890), Les Sylvains (The Fauns), Op 60 (1892), and Autrefois (Bygone Days), Op 87, No 4 (1897). It is easy to dismiss these short pieces as ?lesser? music, but difficult to do so without also dismissing the similar works of, say, Chopin or Field. True, there is not a great deal beyond pleasantries on this CD, not much to stir the soul or invite deep thought or considerable introspection?not even in the sonata. But there is a considerable amount of very well-made music that stands firmly within the French Romantic tradition, played with strong commitment and understanding by Polk and highlighting a voice with enough individualistic qualities to make listeners wonder what other neglected Chaminade pieces may lie out there. There are in fact quite a few: even her works with opus number run to Op 171 and include not only solo-piano music?in which she, a virtuoso herself, specialized?but also a ballet, a number of songs and even a Konzertstück (although not a full-fledged concerto) for piano and orchestra. Hopefully there will be more Chaminade releases to come.


The fact that I?d never heard a note of Cécile Chaminade?s (1857?1944) doesn?t mean that important musicians haven?t taken notice. There are CDs by Shura Cherkassky, Kyung-Wha-Chung, Stephen Hough, and even the spectacular countertenor Philippe Jarousky that feature works by her. Chaminade was born in an era where a protective father could forbid his innocent daughter to attend the Paris Conservatory because she would be surrounded by men. But Chaminade went on to fame in Belle Époque salons (she wasn?t a trifler: Among her 400 published works are large-scale compositions, including ballets and an opera), and she finally spent her last days in Monte Carlo when Hitler?s troops had marched down the Champs-Élysées. It must have been an extraordinary experience to be her.

In this collection of concert pieces for piano, including Chaminade?s first and only piano sonata and some impressively Lisztian études, there?s a tendency to have your cake and eat it too. The program notes, which are quite informative, tell us that Chaminade was just as good as the males around her, victimized by sexism, and trapped by a Catch-22 that denigrated her music for being too feminine unless it was trying too hard to be masculine. On the other hand, Chaminade did in fact have a talent for delicate, leggiero pianism that?s feminine in the best sense, and she was versatile enough to master the salon diversions that the 19th century unblushingly wanted to hear on the same program as Beethoven and Brahms.

To judge by the charming first track, La Lisonjera, (The Flatterer), Chaminade must have been an habitué of nightclubs and cabarets, because its jaunty style evokes that world perfectly. It?s like Parisian Scott Joplin in a drowsy mood. Or is it Mendelssohn on champagne? This smiling attitude doesn?t return until after a stretch of technically difficult études, which never entirely frown, either. The serious pieces don?t strike me as strong enough to anchor an hour-long program, however, because Chaminade?s acrobatic devices are pretty much routine for Victorian-era virtuosos. She?s so much better at character pieces, as they were called, that I was glad for the small handful that return at the end, even if they were selected to show off trills, roulades, runs, and other keyboard ornamentations. Maybe we wouldn?t have to defend the seriousness of a talent like hers if we adopted the lenient taste of her day. Salons were civilized places, after all.

Most of the recordings I can find of Chaminade?s piano music are historical, taken from the composer?s own copious piano rolls (a genre I avoid). So it?s welcome that someone as accomplished as Joanne Polk, who teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and has made a specialty of rescuing forgotten women composers, delivers such an enjoyable survey as this one. Polk is totally at ease when Chaminade throws difficulties at her that might have daunted Moritz Moskowski (who happened to be Chaminade?s brother-in-law). Both the piano and recorded sound are impressive.

-- Fanfare Read less