Symphonies Nos 1 and 3
Insula Orchestra/Laurence Equilbey
Louise Farrenc has emerged well and truly into the spotlight after more than a century of grinding neglect. In the composer’s native France, Laurence Equilbey and her Insula Orchestra, based at the Auditorium de la Seine Musicale, have been beating the drum for her compositions with admirable passion. On this latest recording they present her first and third symphonies, post-Beethovenian works that show Farrenc at her distinctive best, especially No. 3: strong motivic ideas, characterful orchestration with woodwind often to the fore, taut construction in classic symphonic format, and a personal voice that might not sound current to its time, the mid 19th century. It was in fact pretty unusual in a Paris that set way more store by epic-scale opera than by the Viennese-style symphonic purity that Farrenc preferred.
The recorded acoustic in what sounds like an empty hall does not particularly help, but even so, Equilbey seems to drive the music’s impact quite forcefully, in a way that risks emerging as relatively one-dimensional. It could benefit from a somewhat greater sense of light and shade. Sometimes less can be more, and the touch could use more of the less, to help to shape the intensity and to bring out more facets and colours. Much of it seems heavier than it needs to, as if everyone is trying just a little bit too hard. While it is wonderful to have these performances, they possibly don’t always do ideal justice to the symphonies, despite being full of spirit and conviction.