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Farrenc: Symphony No. 1; Overtures Nos 1 & 2, etc

Solistes Européens, Luxembourg/Christoph König, et al (Naxos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 32; Overtures Nos 1 & 2; Grandes Variations sur un thème du Comte Gallenberg, Op. 25
Jean Muller (piano); Solistes Européens, Luxembourg/Christoph König
Naxos 8.574094   58:23 mins


Betraying wistful, flickering hints of Berlioz, a troubled opening yields to an Allegro where German voices beckon – a suggestion of not-quite Mendelssohn here, a suspicion of Schumann there. Louise Farrenc’s multilingual Symphony No. 1 is hard to pin down. Then again, why should we feel the need to pigeonhole? It’s a fluent, feisty essay; a work shot through with bold strokes and a fertile orchestral imagination. And it completes Christoph König’s survey of the complete symphonies which was launched in 2018 with Nos 2 and 3. Two attractive overtures dating from 1834 reveal her limbering up to the larger orchestral forms that peppered the 1840s. And there’s a novelty too: a premiere recording of the Grandes variations sur un theme du Comte Gallenbergin its supersized reworking for piano and orchestra.

Farrenc isn’t exactly a negligible presence in the catalogue, but it’s mostly her chamber music that comes in for scrutiny; there is, though, a rival symphony set available on a 1998 release from Johannes Goritzki and the NDR Radiophilharmonie. König has the edge however. He keeps everything tautly on course with a magisterial grip that nonetheless never wants for expressive empathy. The Symphony’s Adagio cantabile inhabits a Schubertian spaciousness and he coaxes keenly-etched playing in the backward-glancing Menuetto. Jean Muller’s fleet fingers make scintillatingly light work of the Variations’ splashy keyboard challenges – evidently Farrenc wasn’t a pupil of Moscheles and Hummel for nothing. One small caveat: longer gaps between some of the tracks would enhance an otherwise wholeheartedly recommendable package.


Paul Riley