Viner Revels in Chaminade

Mar 25, 2019

Born in 1857, Parisian composer and pianist Cécile Chaminade became famous across Europe – as well as a favorite of Queen Victoria – and now, Mark Viner’s new recording features some of her finest music, and it’s WCRB’s CD of the Week.

Cécile Chaminade had to follow the alternative routes that ambitious women of her time were used to. Her father felt it would be improper for a young lady to graduate from a conservatory, so she studied privately with members of the faculty. Even after sensational international concert tours playing her own music in recitals and with major orchestras, the Parisian music world continued to trivialize her work. In America, after a Carnegie Hall performance in 1908, the New York Post wrote:

“[Chaminade’s music] has a certain feminine daintiness and grace, but it is amazingly superficial and wanting in variety…. On the whole this concert confirmed the conviction held by many that while women may some day vote, they will never learn to compose anything worth while. All of them seem superficial when they write music.”

Thankfully, many now disagree.

British pianist Mark Viner is known for his recordings of Liszt and Alkan, and his remarkable gift for giving real dimension to music of depth and complexity. In the thoughtfully written booklet that accompanies his new recording he mentions Chaminade’s ultimate abandonment of large-scale pieces (she wrote an opera, a ballet, music for orchestra, many songs, and a symphony), in favor of masterfully written, small-scale “salon” pieces for piano. He says, “while there is much speculation that Chaminade’s compositional aspirations were repressed by the misogyny of the time, it should be remembered that writing music of the salon variety was something she was immensely good at, was highly lucrative and, in many ways, is a genre in which she has remained unsurpassed.”

The pieces on the new CD are gorgeous, and Viner gives them the sparkle and the lilt they deserve. He loves the four pieces of her “Poème provençal” and he takes their atmosphere seriously, drawing us into the watery feel of the “Pêcheurs de nuit” (Night fishermen) in a mesmerizing way. The famous etude “Autumn” is here, as is “The Flatterer,” and the Songs Without Words, Op. 76, which have given great joy to many an amateur pianist.

Delicious music, played with magic, finesse, and the respect it deserves.

For a taste of Viner’s pianism, here's a track from the album:

For more information and to purchase this album, visit ArkivMusic.