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Farrenc: Piano Trios, Sextet / Linos Ensemble

Release Date: 05/26/2009 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777256-2   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Jeanne-Louise Farrenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Linos Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

FARRENC Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, op. 33. Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano, op. 44. Sextet for Piano and Winds Linos Ens cpo 777 256 (79:03)

Here is a disc I’ve been waiting for—not necessarily this one specifically, but any CD containing works by Louise Farrenc (1804–1875) that I would be able to review so that I could share with you my admiration and affection for this Read more mid-19th-century French Romantic composer. Among women composers of the Romantic era, Clara Schumann usually emerges as the most noteworthy. But is that assessment based on empirical evidence of her output, or is it largely an artifact of her life story? Aside from a well-regarded piano trio, a piano sonata, and a piano concerto she wrote at the age of 14 with help from husband-to-be Robert, almost everything else from Clara’s hand are songs and solo piano pieces. There are no symphonies, no large orchestral works, and no significant body of chamber-music compositions. Clara was in some ways an extension of her husband (there is now strong evidence that she wrote some of Robert’s pieces and signed his name to them), and later the subject of a Hollywood film ( Song of Love ) that took certain liberties, shall we say, in portraying her relationship with Brahms. Clara Schumann was not a great composer, and neither, for that matter, was Fanny Mendelssohn.

If any woman deserves to be recognized as the greatest female composer of the 19th century, it’s Louise Farrenc. But I will go even a step further and say that during the period in which she was active as a composer—roughly the mid 1820s through the late 1850s—few composers of any gender persuasion, save for Felix Mendelssohn—could hold a candle to her when it came to writing symphonies and large chamber-ensemble works. A side note here: the back of the jewel case inexplicably gives Farrenc’s dates as 1789–1826. The booklet note gives her correct dates as they are given above.

Jeanne-Louise Dumont was born in Paris; her father was well-known sculptor Jacques-Edme Dumont. Her musical talent was recognized early, and she was sent to study piano with Moscheles and Hummel. She also studied composition in private with Reicha, since his classes at the Paris Conservatoire were not open to women. In 1821, Louise married Aristide Farrenc, a flute student she had met at the Sorbonne; for a time she interrupted her own career to travel and concertize with him throughout France. Tiring of life on the road, the couple returned to Paris, where Aristide opened a publishing house, Éditions Farrenc, destined to become one of the country’s leading music publishing companies for the next 40 years. Louise, meanwhile, was appointed professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory, a position in which she remained for the next 30 years.

Among Farrenc’s extensive and impressive catalog are large orchestral works—three symphonies, two concert overtures, and two sets of grand variations—vocal, choral, and solo piano pieces, and her special forte, chamber works ranging from duo sonatas, piano trios, and piano quintets, to a nonet for strings and winds that was played and praised by Joseph Joachim. On two occasions—1861 and 1869—her chamber-music compositions won the Prix Chartier awarded by the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

The enterprising cpo label has already recorded and released Farrenc’s three symphonies and some of her chamber works. But cpo is not alone; other labels have also been cashing in on this extraordinary talent. And, being the chamber-music maven I am, I believe I’ve managed to collect every Farrenc release that has come out, including one or two that are not listed. No excuses or rationalizations need be made for the fact that she was a woman. Her music has more testosterone going for it than does the music of some biologically male composers.

So what does it sound like? Others who have answered this question compare Farrenc most often to Mendelssohn, and with a caveat or two I would agree. Mendelssohn’s musical vision was more far-reaching, his imagination bolder, more fanciful, and more innovative. There is nothing in Farrenc’s symphonic output, for example, that is as strikingly original as Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony. Nor is there anything in Farrenc’s chamber-music output quite as novel as the elves, faeries, and sprites that scamper and scurry through the Scherzo in Mendelssohn’s D-Minor Piano Trio. Farrenc was more firmly rooted in the Classical tradition of her teachers, Moscheles and Hummel. What you will notice immediately in Farrenc’s music, however, besides its exquisite craftsmanship and adherence to Classical form, is one of the most innate gifts for melody and harmony of any composer of this period. Melodic pearls pour forth with such grace and in such abundance that the ear hardly has time to absorb one of them before another comes rolling out. And each is encased in an oyster shell of such poignant harmony it hurts the heart to hear it. The invention is nonstop, a flow of musical ideas so fertile that any one of them could serve as the basis for an entire composition. The three works on this disc are proof that Louise Farrenc, if nothing else, was consistent, for each of these gems furnishes further substantiation of the description of her music given above. It’s hard to believe that this is the only recording currently listed of her famous C-Minor Sextet that won her great acclaim in her lifetime. By anyone’s definition, it should qualify as a masterpiece in the genre.

The Linos Ensemble was founded in 1977 by oboist Klaus Becker. Similar to Britain’s Nash Ensemble, the Linos is a modern-instrument group that performs a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Bach to Stockhausen, and shrinks or expands as called for by the instrumentation of the work at hand. Of the three works on the present disc, only one, the E?-Major Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano, appears to have any recorded competition; and it’s on a Naïve disc that couples it with Farrenc’s equally beguiling E?-Major Nonet (she sure seemed to like keys with three flats—E? Major and its relative C Minor—a common-sense choice, no doubt, when writing for wind instruments). As noted above, I’ve probably acquired every available recording of Farrenc’s music, so yes, I do have the aforementioned Naïve CD; and in a one-on-one contest, I’d be hard-pressed to choose a winner. Performance-wise, I really like the slightly smoother, more polished sound of the Linos Ensemble on this new cpo, but I wouldn’t want to be without the nonet on the Naïve, or the two trios on the cpo. So the only solution is to have them both.

If ever there was a composer whose praises I’ve wanted to shout from the mountaintop, Louise Farrenc is it. This is sure to be on my Want List in this same volume. And it should be on yours as well. But please don’t stop there. Get her symphonies too. You won’t regret it.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings no 1, Op. 33 by Jeanne-Louise Farrenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Linos Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: France 
Notes: Composition written: France (?1850 - ?1855). 
Sextet for Piano and Winds, Op. 40 by Jeanne-Louise Farrenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Linos Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851-1852; France 
Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in E flat major, Op. 44 by Jeanne-Louise Farrenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Linos Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1861; France 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Belated breakthrough July 28, 2012 By E. James Lieberman (Potomac, MD) See All My Reviews "A recreational cellist recently introduced to Louise Farrenc--by preparing her fine trio op. 44 for performance--I am happy to learn more about her and to hear the wonderful playing of the Linos Ensemble." Report Abuse
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