Classical Album of the Week: French Composer Louise Farrenc's Symphony No. 1

Mar 30, 2020

March 30, 2020. Though her work has been neglected for over a century, French composer Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) was a powerful force during her lifetime. Our Classical Album of the Week shows why Farrenc’s symphonic work commanded great respect in her day, and why it deserves to be heard more often today.

Raised in a successful Parisian family of sculptors (the Dumonts,) Louise Farrenc achieved early success as a concert pianist, and established a thriving music publishing company with her husband Aristide, a flutist. Along the way, she continued the composition studies she’d begun as a pupil at the Paris Conservatory, and began publishing her compositions. In 1841 (the same as Robert Schumann’s so-called “Symphony Year”) she completed her Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 32. The following year, she was appointed the first female professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory, a post she held for 31 years.

Our Classical Album of the Week, released this year by Naxos, features Solistes Européens de Luxembourg in Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 1, her Overtures No. 1 and No. 2, and the world premiere recording of Grandes Variations sur un thème du comte Gallenberg.

Under the direction of their music director Christoph König, the ensemble demonstrates Farrenc’s strengths as a symphonic composer: logical, Beethovenian structure, mastery of orchestral color, and a lightness, drive and texture, that recalls Mendelssohn’s works.

Farrenc’s Overture No. 1 in E minor, Op 23 and Overture No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 24 are both concise works full of operatic drama, and were written seven years before her Symphony No. 1. The album closes with the world premiere recording of another work from the same era, Farrrenc’s Grandes Variations sur un thème du comte Gallenberg. Farrenc takes a charming, balletic theme by an Austrian count (Count Gallenberg) and turns it, through a series of bold variations, into a virtuosic showpiece for piano and orchestra. Belgian pianist Jean Muller dispatches the solo part with flair and exuberance.