Chaminade: Saisons d'amour - Kammerloher, Blanchard, Lee
MDG Scene 908 2288-6
Classical - Vocal
Katharina Kammerloher (soprano)
Johann Blanchard (piano)
Jiyoon Lee (violin)
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - June 29, 2023
For most, Cécile Chaminade is not a household name. Yet, at the turn of the 19th century, she composed more than 400 works and performed as a pianist in concert halls in Europe and the United States. Assuming that visitors of this site have shelves full of Bach-Beethoven-Brahms and the rest of the usual, this MDG release offers an excellent opportunity to widen one’s scope. And what could be more rewarding than to indulge in ‘Saisons d’amour’, about love, longing and the occasional sadness? Twenty-two songs, arranged in the seasons of the year, a concept that takes the listener from light-hearted Spring and playful Summer to the darker colours of Autumn.
We may wonder why her music became obsolete. Female composers were still not much ‘en vogue’ at the time, and her father’s view wasn’t very helpful either. According to Aliette de Laleu, journalist and columnist at France Musique: “Pour lui, il fallait que sa fille soit une épouse et une mère” (For him, his daughter had to be a wife and a mother). A critic of the New York Evening Post observed that despite her music having “a certain feminine delicacy and grace” it was “surprisingly superficial” and demonstrated a “lack of variety”. And also that “.. if women can vote one day, they will never learn to compose something worthwhile”. Not very encouraging. However, despite all that, her star shone widely in Europe until .... she stopped altogether at the start of the Great War (WW1) to devote her time to humanitarian activities.
The liner notes (Dennis Hopp and Katharine Kammerlopher) give a more detailed insight, also and more in particular into how her ‘Musique de Salon’ started to recover and regain public interest as of the beginning of the nineteen-nineties (1990) resulting -and limiting myself to SACD- in recordings of her Concertino for Flute and Orchestra (Great Works for Flute and Orchestra - Bezaly, Järvi), Sérénade espagnole (Salon de Paris - Irnberger, Demus, Ornetsmüller), and Pièce romantique (Solo Flute from A to Z, Vol 3 - Bezaly). And now, thanks to MDG, a release that is devoted in its entirety to her songs.
We do not always realise how difficult it is to sing in a language that isn’t yours. It poses twice as much strain on a singer than a score does on an instrumentalist. Apart from singing, the artist must simultaneously use his mouth and throat muscles to get around the sound properties of the required language. Not so much of an extra burden if it’s your own, but a lot harder if one has not grown up with it. At a certain age, most of this musculature has been formed. That’s why many will, however good they master another language, have an accent, often revealing the original whereabouts. Does it matter? That depends.
The German Mezzo, Katharina Kammerloher, has a beautifully rich and warm voice. After having been ‘discovered’ by Daniel Barenboim, her career catapulted her into many of the best opera houses in the world. With a voice as strong as a clarion she shines as ‘Wellgunde’ in Wagner’s Rheingold (Wagner: Das Rheingold - Janowski) and Gotterdämmerung (Wagner: Gotterdämmerung - Janowski). But, as can be judged by this new release, she is equally at home in the world of the ‘Lied’. Here her voice, too, is particularly suited to the various moods ranging from desire to temperament.
The French linguistic community may have wished for some clearer diction. The French language is indeed not one of the easiest to handle. But with the help of the texts provided in the booklet, they will have no difficulty following each Song. So, with chauvinism put aside, I don’t think that it poses even a minor problem. The more so because there is so much to enjoy in these, I believe practically almost all, World Premiere Songs.
With all this praise for Cécile’s enchanting singing, we mustn’t underestimate the piano part. Chaminade was a competent pianist, knowing very well how to score a supportive accompaniment. And in that respect, Johann Blanchard shows himself to be a Chaminade expert, without, however, trying to become too much in the foreground. His approach makes for engaging teamwork. Similarly, and of particular interest is the violinist Jiyoon Lee, who joins the two in The Summer, a song arranged for voice, violin and piano by Christian Dellacher (No. 11), as well as in the final two Songs, adding an extra playful (11) passionate (21) and lusciously toned (22) dimension.
Werner Dabringhaus takes full responsibility for the recording that took place during the months of September and October of last year in the Konzerhaus of the Marienmünster Abbey in the MDG 2x2x2 formula, which I cannot reproduce, but it sounds to me as good as any in my surround set-up.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
Copyright © 2023 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net