New Louise Farrenc piano series dazzles with technique

At first, this might seem an odd way to launch a new piano series. Usually Volume One features the strongest (or most famous) works by the composer. This ensures maximum interest and provides some momentum for the series itself. 

A volume of Études doesn’t seem to have that immediate appeal. After all, these are short little pieces — 87 in all, most under 1:30. But for Louise Farrenc, it’s absolutely the right way to start the series. 

Farrenc was a consummate pianist as well as a gifted composer. She was famous for her piano technique. So much so, that she was appointed Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatory. Farrenc developed her own curriculum and wrote her etudes to develop techniques. 

What raises them above the didactic is Farrenc’s compositional talent. Yes, each etude is primarily concerned with a particular technical skill. Rather than using a melody to string together some exercises, Farrenc creates melodies that can only be fully realized through those techniques. 

Every one of these etudes is worthy of the concert hall. And especially as performed by Maria Stratigou. She has done a thorough study of these works. That deep understanding of what Farrenc was doing in these pieces has informed her playing. 

First and foremost, Stratigou concentrates on the musicality of the etudes. Melodies are beautifully phrased. And no matter how complex the music, it never sounds busy or cluttered. The technical is always subservient to the musical. 

This collection showcases Farrenc’s remarkable skill as a pianist. (After all, I’m assuming she could play all these knuckle-busters.) And at the same time, it demonstrates her skill as a composer. 

These etudes get this Farrenc piano series off on a flying start. I am very much looking forward to hearing more from this remarkable performer — and pianist.

Louise Farrenc: Complete Piano Works 1, Études
Maria Stratigou, piano
Grand Piano
2 CD Set

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