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Louise FARRENC (1804-1875)
Piano Trio in E flat major, op. 33 (1841/44) [27:44]
Piano Trio in D minor, op. 34 (1844) [23:34]
Mary Ellen Haupert (piano), Nancy Oliveros (violin), Laura Sewell (cello)
rec. information not available
No booklet provided
Reviewed as lossless download from eClassical
CENTAUR CRC3435 [51:18]

I was in the process of finishing the “F” composers section of my Piano Trio survey, having made the observation that the trios of Louise Farrenc are too good to have only single recordings of each, when this new Centaur release appeared. It provides the only means of obtaining these two trios on a single disc.

Louise Farrenc was born into a wealthy Parisian family, and studied piano with such luminaries as Moscheles and Hummel, and composition with Reicha. Her family were willing to support her career as a professional musician, pianist and composer, which makes them very forward-thinking for the time. She was appointed to the post of Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatory, the only woman to achieve such a position anywhere in nineteenth century Europe. She wrote four trios, all with piano and cello. The two on this recording were written specifically for violin as the third instrument, whereas the others – opp. 44 and 45 – were scored with clarinet or flute, respectively, but published with alternative parts for violin.

The E flat trio exudes a very strong feeling of early to mid-Beethoven, in its rhythms and the shape of its melodies. Certainly, it lacks the master’s melodic inspiration, but there is no sense of note-spinning or padding. The D minor trio shows a progression from Beethoven towards Schumann in the opening movements, though the closing Rondo is certainly redolent of the former. In both instances, the opening movement repeat is omitted, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I’ve come to the conclusion in my trio survey that a common fault in the lesser composer is a lack of concision.

Mary Ellen Haupert seems to be something of a Farrenc specialist: she has already recorded Farrenc’s cello sonata and second violin sonata (Centaur CRC3271). I have no problems with her playing, though in places, I think it lacks a little subtlety. However, the performances are totally compromised by the nasal and weedy tone produced by the violin, to the point where it becomes challenging to listen all through. What a shame.

The competition for this release is the Linos Ensemble for op. 33 (CPO review) and the Abegg Trio from the mid-1980s on Tacet for op. 34. These are both good performances, fortunately since they win out by default. While you need to make two purchases, the couplings are interesting: other Farrenc works on the CPO, and a Berwald trio on the Tacet.

The running time is ungenerous and in other circumstances, I would have suggested that since Farrenc’s first violin sonata remains unrecorded, surely it could have made a valuable companion piece. However, that would have meant listening to more of the violin. The booklet notes aren’t supplied with the download; this is a Centaur “speciality”, and particularly galling in a release of such little-known and little-documented music as this. My final gripe is the sound quality, which is very cold and compressed, making the tone of the violin even worse, and doing no favours for the cello either.

This could have been a valuable and desirable release, but it isn’t. If you already have these works, don’t purchase it. If you don’t, buy one or both of the older recordings. I will be deleting it from my hard drive.

David Barker



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