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Equilbey Conducts a Verdant Night of Symphonies, with H+H

Laurence Equilbey and H+H
Sam Brewer
Laurence Equilbey and H+H

Sunday, February 27, 2022
7:00 PM

On WCRB In Concert with the Handel and Haydn Society, guest conductor Laurence Equilbey leads the period instrument ensemble in Louise Farrenc's Symphony No. 3 and Beethoven's ode to Mother Nature, the Pastoral Symphony.

Laurence Equilbey, conductor
The Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra

FARRENC Symphony No. 3
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6, Pastoral

Recorded at Symphony Hall in Boston, on Friday, November 5 and Sunday, November 7, 2021.

See the program notes for this concert.

This concert is no longer available on demand.

Hear a preview of this concert with Laurence Equilbey with the audio player above, and read the transcript below:

Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath from WCRB, with Laurence Equilbey. She's here with the Handel and Haydn Society, I think for the very first time. Am I correct about that?

Laurence Equilbey Yes, it is the first time with the H and H Society, and I'm very glad to be here with them.

Brian McCreath Well, we're glad to have you here as well. And what you've done is you've brought along a work by a composer you're very close to: Louise Farrenc. And Louise Farrenc's music, by definition, almost has to be a discovery for most of us because it's not so commonly played. And I'm interested about your own discovery of her music – when that happened, and if you knew right away that this music would play a large role in your artistic life?

Laurence Equilbey Yes. You know, I discovered her symphonies a few years ago, and I am always very attentive to rare repertoire. And I was waiting for the right moment to program this symphony, Number Three, which is the most brilliant, I think.

Brian McCreath And so say more about its brilliance. What is it that Louise Farrenc's music, what are the characteristics of it? What makes it her music compared to the other music of the time that we might know more familiarly?

Laurence Equilbey Yes, I think Farrenc, she composed three symphonies and two overtures. And before that, she composed a lot of chamber music, and especially very good [music] for the piano because she is a pianist and her husband was a flutist. And she composed very well for the woodwinds. And so the symphonies are very elaborate works. In the years of 1830-40, she wrote, then, these three symphonies. And she studied music with Anton Reicha, who is a friend of Beethoven. So she's a little bit heiress, yes, of Beethoven, because she studied also with Hummel. And her music, you want to know the specificity or...?

Brian McCreath Well, I'm curious about what it is you hear in her music that might be different, for instance, from Reicha's or Hummel's or from Beethoven's, for sure. What characteristics do Louise Farrenc's music give to us through the orchestra that those other composers may not?

Laurence Equilbey I think her symphonies are very well constructed, and she knows very well the form [of the] sonata, for example. And she has a lot of inventive idea[s]. She's really inspired by the – the themes are really beautiful melodies. And also the rhythm is very complicated, sometimes. It's tricky, and it gives a lot of energy. And also the harmony, the world she discovers with this harmony, like Schubert, or so – it is this type of world. It's really refined. And I think that these works have to be in the main repertoire for the orchestras, and I'm very proud that H and H programmed this symphony.

Brian McCreath Absolutely. I listened to your very new recording of this piece.

Laurence Equilbey Yes? Really? Good!

Brian McCreath Yeah, with your orchestra in France. And one thing that strikes me is the instrumental textures. The way that she divides the orchestra up, gives themes to certain... It's very not like Beethoven at all. There's a lot of grace to it, I find. How would you describe her use of the orchestra?

Laurence Equilbey I would say sometimes when tutti plays together, it's a little bit Sturm und Drang. It's sort of a sort of Classic [and] early Romantic together. But when she wants some poetry, she takes the woodwinds and then she leaves her woodwinds alone. And the strings play just a little accompaniment, and it's very beautiful. She had really a big, very fine orchestration.

Brian McCreath And for you, how do you see these symphonies? You mentioned that she wrote a lot of chamber music, some piano, a lot of piano works. Would you say that these symphonies, especially the Third, is really her masterpiece, the pinnacle of her composition? Is that what we're finding in this symphony?

Laurence Equilbey Yes. I like very much the First also because I think, especially with the period instruments, it is really a Symphony No. 1, and really, I like it very much. I know that the Third is the most played. Superb! But the Second is also brilliant. And I begin an integral [of the complete Farrenc symphonies] for Warner, so we will play the Second next year and the two overtures. But sure, the Third is perhaps the more public because of the movement two, the second movement. The slow movement is really beautiful with a sort of a line and variation. And Farrenc is close to Beethoven in these movements, in these slow movements, because she has really a sort of technique to make variations with the theme, and she's really wonderful. And I think that's why this symphony is really well known. And the Scherzo is also very, how do you say, perhaps as something animalistic? Yeah.

Brian McCreath And tell me about your decision to have this symphony – Farrenc's Third Symphony – alongside Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. Why these two pieces together?

Laurence Equilbey Yes. So we have to know that, for the premiere in Paris, this Third Symphony was played with the Fifth by Beethoven. So, together, Farrenc – Beethoven already. So when I conduct for the first time this symphony, I played before the Triple Concerto and Farrenc was in the second part. And then, I think that, with the "Pastoral," this poetry [is] very unique in that symphony by Beethoven, that corresponds really to the universe of Farrenc. So I think, together, it is really nice to confront Beethoven and Farrenc because it's really, Beethoven is an ending. You can do nothing after him in the symphony. And the other composers, it's the case for Berlioz and also for Schubert, they try to find another way. And so together, and you have Reicha and Hummel, who were friends [with] Beethoven, which is really very touching, I mean, to do together.

Brian McCreath Absolutely. And this must not be the first time that you've brought music by Farrenc to musicians who have never played it before. I imagine many of the H and H musicians have not played her music before. And what do you hear from the reactions of the musicians to this music?

Laurence Equilbey Yes, they were very happy, I guess, because I see on their faces sometimes, they understand this music very, very well. And we work a lot and I think they are very enthusiastic now.

Brian McCreath Absolutely. And do you see Farrenc's music being programmed more? Do you see a time in the future when this may take its place along with the symphonies of Schubert and Beethoven and Schumann? I mean, will this music come to be that music we see on a regular basis from orchestras?

Laurence Equilbey Yes. Of course, I think it is very important today to make sure that the repertoire of women composers is highlighted and there are some fantastic things that exist but are rarely performed, like this symphony by Farrenc or also by Emilie Mayer, for example. And I think they will gain a more prominent place in the mainstream repertoire in a few years because the world, in music, we know that is not normal, this situation. So we have to do an effort, and to give to this work all our concentration of our force. And I am sure that they will certainly become part of the standard orchestral repertoire.

Brian McCreath Yeah. And with lots of thanks to you for the work that you've done with it. So I really appreciate, Laurence Equilbey, it's wonderful to talk with you and welcome to Boston. It's good to have you here.

Laurence Equilbey Thank you so much.