Since the release in 2020 of Joanne Polk’s first recording of the little-known piano music of Louise Farrenc on the Steinway & Sons label, the name of this 19th-century French composer has become more common on recital and concert programs. The present recording continues the exploration of Farrenc’s music in the hope of further raising awareness of her work.
The album begins with a poetic gem that speaks volumes to the depth and profundity of Farrenc’s ability to touch our souls, and to hear the silence between the notes.
On September 1, 2023, Steinway & Sons releases The Silence Between the Notes - Louise Farrenc: Solo Piano Works, Vol. 2 (STNS 30223) from pianist Joanne Polk. The album is a compliment to Polk's acclaimed 2020 release, Louise Farrenc: Etudes & Variations for Solo Piano (STNS 30133).
As the first female professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory in 1842, Farrenc broke the long-standing barrier of gender discrimination at the Conservatory, and as a published composer of music for solo piano, chamber ensembles, and orchestra she was able to establish the legitimacy of music by women in the face of accepted theories of their inferiority as creative artists. Like the handful of her female colleagues who became published composers (Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann in particular), Farrenc studied composition privately with some of the same teachers who instructed her famous male counterparts at the Paris Conservatory. And her success as a published composer had to do in part with the fact that her husband, Jacques Farrenc, was a leading Parisian music publisher who was not afraid to promote his wife’s music through publication. Regrettably, it often took familial connections of this sort to allow women in the 19th century to succeed as composers and to destroy the common prejudices against female composers of that era.
This new recording includes twelve more of the 30 Etudes that formed a large part of Joanne Polk’s first volume of the piano music of Louise Farrenc. These are, like the etudes of Liszt and Chopin, large-scale concert works that also serve to develop different specific pianistic techniques. Further expanding the recording of Farrenc’s etudes is the inclusion here of her 12 Études brillantes, written in the same virtuoso style as her 30 Etudes.
Also recorded on this album are two more examples of Farrenc’s operatic fantasies: one based on an aria from Bellini’s opera La straniera, and the other from Carafa’s opera Berenice. Both of these piano works are part of the familiar 19th-century tradition of composing transcriptions of tunes from popular operas that were currently in production at the Paris Opéra. These transcriptions were part of a collection that Farrenc published under the title Les Italiennes.
Opening the present recording is a short, lyrical piece titled simply Mélodie, an example of the popular 19th-century genre known as “songs without words.” This poetic gem speaks volumes to the depth and profundity of Farrenc’s ability to touch our souls, and to hear the silence between the notes.
- Dr. Jeffrey Langford
“All of this music is eminently listenable, enjoyable, and stunningly surprising for the quality of the writing. Miss Farrenc must have been a formidable pianist in her day!”
The Classical Music Guide
“Ferrenc’s piano études occasionally turn up in teaching anthologies for didactic purposes, yet Polk has culled a selection whose purely musical appeal speaks for itself...Polk plays them with total conviction and mastery.”
“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.”
The Whole Note
“Louise Farrenc’s technical compositions are nothing short of stunning. Though etudes instantaneously bring Chopin and Liszt to mind, Farrenc, nonetheless, was another tour-de-force with an indefatigable mindset in eliciting her own channel of pure virtuosity and technical prowess.”
“The beauty of these pieces is striking and the technical thrills exciting...Display pieces these may be, but Polk displays them to excellent effect, in the process providing great insight into Farrenc’s compositional skill as well as what were clearly her considerable performance abilities.”
The Silence Between the Notes - Louise Farrenc: Solo Piano Works, Vol. 2 • STNS 30223
Release Date: 9/1/2023
Recorded December 19–21, 2022 at Veronica Hagman Concert Hall, Western Connecticut State University
Produced and Engineered by Steven Epstein
Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Musical Arts Assistant: Laura Piechota
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Photo of Joanne Polk: Jeffrey Langford Photography
About the Artist
Pianist Joanne Polk was catapulted into the public eye with her recordings of the complete piano works of American composer Amy Beach (1867-1944) on the Arabesque Recordings label. Ms. Polk celebrated the centennial of Beach’s Piano Concerto by giving the work its London premiere with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Barbican Center under the baton of Paul Goodwin. A few days later, Ms. Polk performed the Piano Concerto with the Women’s Philharmonic in San Francisco with conductor Apo Hsu in a performance described as “brilliant” by critic Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The first recording in the Beach series, by the still waters, received the 1998 INDIE award for best solo recording. Empress of Night, the fifth volume of Ms. Polk’s survey of Beach’s piano works, includes the Piano Concerto with the English Chamber Orchestra, Paul Goodwin conducting. The sixth volume of the series, Morning Glories, joins Ms. Polk with the Lark Quartet in three outstanding chamber music works by Amy Beach. Two all-Beach performances at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, which featured Joanne Polk and the Lark Quartet, were applauded by the New York Times, as they deemed Polk’s performances “polished and assured.” American Record Guide reported, “Polk and the Larks played their hearts out. We in the audience shouted ourselves hoarse with gratitude.”
Prior to recording the complete piano music of Amy Beach, Ms. Polk recorded Completely Clara: Lieder by Clara Wieck Schumann, her debut CD for Arabesque Recording, featuring Metropolitan Opera soprano Korliss Uecker. This CD was selected as a “Best of the Year” recording by The Seattle Times and was featured on Performance Today on New York Public Radio. Ms. Polk’s CD for Albany Records, Callisto, features the solo piano music of Judith Lang Zaimont. Her CD titled Songs of Amy Beach, recorded with baritone Patrick Mason for Bridge Records, was nominated for a Grammy Award.
In 2014, Ms. Polk’s CD titled The Flatterer, solo piano music of French Romantic composer Cécile Chaminade, was released on the Steinway & Sons Label. The CD was a “Pick of the Week” on New York’s classical radio station WQXR and debuted at #1 on the Classical Billboard Chart. In 2017, Joanne Polk’s CD, Gershwin & Wild, was released on the Steinway & Sons Label and features Earl Wild’s transcriptions of Gershwin songs, as well as Wild’s Piano Sonata. American Record Guide called Ms. Polk’s playing on this CD, “plush and dreamily attractive…”
In 2014, Joanne Polk was named one of Musical America’s Top 30 Professionals of the Year in an article titled, “Profiles in Courage.” Ms. Polk’s profile focused on her work promoting the music of women composers.
Ms. Polk received her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music Degrees from The Juilliard School, and her Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from Manhattan School of Music. She has given master classes at many summer festivals and universities across the country, and in 2018 completed a five-city, three-week concert and master class tour of Taiwan and China.
In 2019, two of Ms. Polk’s CDs, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn and The Flatterer: Solo Piano Music by Cécile Chaminade, were included on New York City’s classical radio station WQXR’s Essential Piano Recordings.
In February 2020, Ms. Polk’s CD Louise Farrenc Etudes and Variations for Solo Piano, was released on the Steinway & Sons Label, and later that year was included on The New York Times “Best Classical Music of 2020” list.
Ms. Polk recorded Variations on Santa Claus is Coming To Town (after Chopin’s Etudes), a brilliant and fun set of variations composed by David Shenton, utilizing all 24 Chopin Etudes, and weaving the popular Christmas song throughout. This digital album was released on the Steinway & Sons Label in November 2020. In November 2021, Steinway and Sons released Social Flutterby, solo piano music by David Shenton. This CD includes Shenton’s Piano Sonata, a Ballade dedicated to Joanne Polk, and a set of delightful short pieces titled Six Musical Oddities. Variations on Santa Claus is Coming To Town (after Chopin’s Etudes) was rereleased on Social Flutterby.
Although most concerts were suspended during 2021, Ms. Polk gave virtual masterclasses at various colleges and universities including Boston University and performed virtual recitals at summer festivals including the Puerto Rico Piano Festival.
Some upcoming concerts include performances of the complete Seven Virtuoso Etudes on Gershwin Songs transcribed by Earl Wild as well as Wild’s Theme and Variations on Someone to Watch Over Me based on the Gershwin song, and a performance of Louise Farrenc’s Sextet for Piano and Woodwind Quintet with the renowned woodwind quintet Windscape.
For European representation, Ms. Polk is represented exclusively by Vida Art Management.
Ms. Polk is a member of the piano faculty of Manhattan School of Music and is an exclusive Steinway artist.
To find out more about Ms. Polk, please visit her website at www.joannepolkpianist.com.
About Steinway & Sons label
The STEINWAY & SONS music label produces exceptional albums of solo piano music across all genres. The label — a division of STEINWAY & SONS, maker of the world’s finest pianos — is a perfect vessel for producing the finest quality recordings by some of the most talented pianists in the world.