Farrenc Symphonies Nos 2 & 3
Solistes Européens Luxembourg/Christoph König
Naxos 8.573706 67:00mins
In the current, long-overdue awakening to fine music that happens to have been written by women, the French composer Louise Farrenc is notably steaming up the fast lane of public consciousness. Born Louise Dumont in an aristocratic Parisian family in 1804, Farrenc was a pupil of Reicha, a friend of Hummel and fortunate in gaining a supportive husband, himself a composer and flautist, who encouraged her career. She continued it throughout her life, not only composing but also becoming the first woman to hold a full professorship of piano at the Paris Conservatoire. Her music has a strong individual stamp, yet owes much to Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and also perhaps to Haydn: in these two symphonies, composed respectively in 1845 and 1847, there’s energy, invention and wit aplenty. Both are wrought in traditional classical structure; they may seem conservative to anyone expecting the 1840s to present the iconoclasm of a Schumann or Berlioz, but we shouldn’t forget that such figures were, broadly speaking, the exception rather than the rule.
If the Third Symphony has enjoyed more prominence to date, that is likely because of its adventurous, stormy and dramatic qualities; but No. 2 with its streamlined lightness of touch is a rewarding discovery. The Solistes Européens with Christoph König are splendid advocates for both pieces, making the most of Farrenc’s turbulent allegros, songful melodies and generous yet transparent orchestration. König’s tempos are vivid, and the spirit and the sound alike are warm.