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Louise Farrenc: Etudes & Variations / Joanne Polk

Release Date: 02/07/2020
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30133
Composer:  Louise Farrenc ,  Jeanne-Louise Farrenc Performer:  Joanne Polk Number of Discs: 1

French pianist and composer Louise Farrenc commanded an important presence in the musical life of 19th century France. Joanne Polk’s newest album on the Steinway & Sons label includes selections from Farrenc’s Op. 26 collection of etudes and 3 sets of variations.

R E V I E W S:

Here’s another winner of a recording from Steinway and Sons. As we have learned to expect, the recorded sound is superb.

Louise Farrenc (1804-1875), especially for someone who today merits not even the proverbial asterisk in most music guidebooks, had an amazing career. Judging from this release, Farrenc’s music is firmly in the mid-19th-century Romantic virtuoso-piano tradition of Liszt and Chopin, even to the extent
Read more of including crowd-pleasing paraphrases of (or, variations upon) opera themes or arias by Bellini (Norma) and Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots).

All of which pianist Joanne Polk presents with facility, fluidity, dispatch, and élan. To get a French word in there. (And also, with joie de vivre.) The Les Huguenots piece is a corker: Imagine if Franz Liszt had gone to town on Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” (Oops; perhaps Liszt actually did that. Dunno. Long ago, I decided that FL was, for the most part, not my cup of tea; so I might have a bit of a blind spot there.)

Ferranc studied theory and composition with Anton Reicha, one of Berlioz’ teachers. She became the first female professor of piano the Paris Conservatory in 1842. Her Thirty Etudes were adopted as required repertory for piano students there in 1845. Her published compositional output included chamber music as well as three symphonies, all of which were performed...

The first three tracks are variations; the first upon a Russian song; the second upon the famous aria from Bellini’s Norma; and the third from Meyerbeer’s fantastically successful opera Les Huguenots (the first opera ever to have been presented 1,000 times at the Paris Opéra). What follows the variation pieces on the CD is a selection from Farrenc’s two volumes encompassing 30 études.

Most highly recommended, especially for piano mavens or for piano students.

-- John Marks, The Tannhäuser Gate

This brilliant composer and alleged supreme French pianist, Louise Farrenc, lived between 1804 and 1875. Only on occasion does one hear her works, piano pieces, overtures, symphonies, chamber music, etc., and then, mostly on the radio. I have collected her recordings for years — there are not that many in reality — but recordings have begun to see daylight more over the past 15 or so years, generally on labels that wouldn't be considered major, i.e. CPO, Centaur, Pentatone, Paladino, ASV, FSM, and Brilliant, to name some. She was born into a life span that produced among the greatest composers the world has ever known so it stands to reason that, being involved in that culture, fed her musical imagination. I think she did superbly well especially based on a new Steinway & Sons CD [30133] offering a hint over 70 minutes in duration. Frankly, I was overwhelmed by the pianism of Joanne Polk, the pianist, her magnificent Steinway concert grand, and the acoustics of the program — and the music.

What is on this disc that I have not found on any other are Etudes, Op. 26, Books I and II, but not complete (how I wish they were complete). The album is entitled Etudes and Variations for Solo Piano, and so far, I would rate this one of the finest piano discs presented this year of 2020. Other works include a Russian Air and Variations, a Cavatine from the Opera Norma, Souvenir of the Huguenots with 15 Etudes completing the album. All of it eminently listenable, enjoyable, and stunningly surprising for the quality of the writing. Miss Farrenc must have been a formidable pianist in her day!

Joanne Polk's work has been presented on disc before if you think you have heard her name. On the Steinway & Sons label [30037], she recorded the music of Cecile Chaminade in a CD entitled The Flatterer, and for Arabesque, she recorded the piano works of Amy (Mrs. H. H. A.) Beach, Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, Gershwin/Earl Wild and the symphonic works can be found on Naxos. Her interests seem to be in promoting mostly the work of female composers who are largely overlooked in the pantheon of composers. She is to be greatly credited for that.

This new Steinway & Sons disc I would recommend as a must-have for music/piano lovers.

-- The Classical Music Guide

The name Louise Farrenc is practically unknown today, but during her lifetime, she was a respected composer and pedagogue at a time when the professional artistic world was very much male dominated. Born in Paris in 1804, she was an almost exact contemporary of the novelist George Sand. Like Sand – and also Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn – she was forced to overcome societal biases of the time, but ultimately enjoyed a long and successful career. Her compositions include symphonies, overtures, chamber, choral and vocal music, and a great many pieces for solo piano. These latter are well represented on this Steinway & Sons recording featuring American pianist Joanne Polk. The first three tracks on the disc are sets of variations; the first on a Russian song; the second on an aria from Bellini’s Norma; and the third, the Lutheran chorale Ein Feste Burg used in Meyerbeer’s successful opera Les Huguenots. The music is elegant and well crafted, with the original themes creatively varied. Throughout, Polk demonstrates a real affinity for the music, approaching it with considerable fluidity and élan. The two sets of Etudes Op.26 making up the remainder of the disc were so highly regarded that they were ultimately adopted by the Conservatoire as required repertoire. There is much to appreciate in these musical gems – do I hear echoes of Mendelssohn and even Chopin? Many of them pose considerable technical challenges that surely only advanced pupils could have handled. Despite its obscurity, Farrenc’s music should never be dismissed as secondary. There is evidence of fine creativity, matched here by an equally fine performance. Kudos to Joanne Polk and to Steinway & Sons for helping bring to light repertoire that might otherwise have been overlooked. Recommended.

-- Richard Haskell, The Whole Note

The recent revival of interest in Louise Farrenc’s music has unearthed a composer of stature, her Third Symphony in particular enjoying popularity. Here, Polk reveals some of Farrenc’s superbly crafted piano music.

A charming Air Russe varié launches the disc, while Farrenc’s ever-so-French way with found material ( from Bellini’s Norma and Souvenir des Huguenots) is mirrored by Polk’s legerdemain. Excerpts from the composer’s Etudes Op. 26 explore a variety of characters and styles, from breathlessly comedic to quasi-Schubertian, mournful aria to fugue. Polk’s dedication and pianistic command is complete, the recording first rank.

-- Colin Clarke, International Piano Read less