Louise Farrenc: Talented Yes, but Memorable?

Review by: David Hurwitz

Farrenc

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

French composer Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) was every bit as gifted as any of the second-tier musicians of her day. Her First Symphony (1841) reveals skilled orchestration and a confident handling of traditional forms. Cast in a turbulent C minor, it remains there all the way through the finale–no facile, major-key resolution here. What the music lacks is a fund of truly memorable ideas, which is of course why it fell into obscurity in the first place, but it’s good to have it available as long as your expectations aren’t exaggerated. She’s not as interesting as, say, Krommer or Kalliwoda, but she certainly knew her stuff.

The same observations hold true of the two overtures: in each case seven minutes of entertaining music that would grace any symphony concert, even today. The most fun, though, comes in the form of the Grand Variations on a Theme by Count Gallenberg, one of billions of short pieces for solo (in this case piano) and orchestra that no one plays anymore because of their brevity. Farrenc turns her imagination loose on Gallenberg’s not-terribly-interesting theme and produces a glittering, virtuosic little showpiece, very ably played by pianist Jean Muller.

Indeed, all the performances here, under conductor Christoph König, are suitably fresh and lively. CPO has a rival series of Farrenc orchestral music from the NDR orchestra in Hanover, but it’s not better than these performances, and it doesn’t include the Variations. Naxos’ engineering is good, save for some tubbiness in the timpani (where are those hard sticks when you need them?). Altogether, a nice collectable. Whether you agree that Farrenc deserved her obscurity really depends on how much you respond to the style, and how much time you have to spare.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

  • FARRENC, LOUISE:
    Symphony No, 1 in C minor; Grand Variations on a Theme by Count Gallenberg; Overtures Nos. 1 and 2

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