Deft miniaturist as she was, Chaminade was never merely a purveyor of morceaux; however her only Piano Sonata is, like most of her larger-scale works, a comparatively early production, from the period when she had to make her mark in the sophisticated musical milieu of Paris. Dedicated to Moritz Moszkowski, the Sonata’s C minor tonality, and the Allegro appassionato marking of its first movement, make clear from the outset that in her enterprise Chaminade was evoking the protection of Beethoven, evident also in the opening theme which rises in powerful waves in the left hand. But a contrasting tranquillo idea is a complete surprise: it seems to unfold in a single line which soon reveals itself as the first voice in a neo-Bachian fugal invention. After combination with the first theme it leads to a vaunting, heroic figure and some robustly Brahmsian writing before the initial theme returns in the left hand and initiates a vigorous codetta. Rather than try to reconcile these rather conflicting influences Chaminade opts for drastic compression. The development, beginning with a chordal version of the fugal theme, is very short, and the recapitulation is truncated; the fugal theme is represented only by its opening phrase, the movement passing swiftly to a con fuoco conclusion.
The Andante slow movement, in A flat, begins as a beautifully melodious romantic reverie, disturbed by a fateful figure in dotted rhythm that relates to the first movement’s opening theme. The movement veers to C sharp minor for its songful second theme before building to a rhapsodic climax that combines all the ideas so far heard. The romantic melody of the opening returns, but the coda melts exquisitely away on the second theme. The virile, spirited finale is a kind of toccata, its near-perpetual motion of semiquavers, broken by sforzato left-hand jabs, reminiscent perhaps of Schumann. This motion becomes the background to a long-spanned contrasting theme, but again the composer opts for a structure more abbreviated than her premises might well support: writing of increasing bravura leads to a shortened reprise of the opening semiquaver idea, and a brusque final cadence.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 1996