Reviews, News and Commentary

The APO rediscovers some little known composers

John Daly-Peoples

Joseph Bologne and Louise Farrenc

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra


Bologne Symphony No.1
Gershwin Piano Concerto in F
Farrenc Symphony No.3

Auckland Town Hall

June 17

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The APO’s latest concert “Rediscovery” featured works by a couple of composers who are rarely included in classical music programmes. Joseph Bologne a black French composer of the late eighteenth century and Louise Farrenc of the mid nineteenth century.

Joseph Bologne, also known as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges was born on the French colony of Guadeloupe.  He was of African heritage with his mother being a slave on his father’s plantation. As well as being a  composer he was also a virtuoso violinist, a conductor of the leading symphony orchestra in Paris, and a renowned champion fencer. Before the French revolution he was even elevated to the minor aristocracy under the title “Gentilhomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi.”

During the Revolution he served as a colonel of the Légion St.-Georges, the first all-black regiment in Europe, fighting on the side of the Republic.

His three movement Symphony No 1 owes much to Scarlatti and C.P.E. Bach with its delicate themes while the  second movement melodies, show why he was often referred to as  “The Black Mozart.”

The final spirited movement has connections with Haydn, who later wrote his “Paris” symphonies for Bologne’s Paris based  orchestra.

While the symphony was composed for a pre-revolutionary audience the work was performed many times after the revolution, an example of music able to cross political boundaries.

Where Bologne succeeded despite his African heritage Louise Farrenc despite being a woman also succeeded in the music world gaining fame as a performer and in 1842 she was appointed to the permanent position of Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatoire , a position she held for thirty years.

Until the mid-nineteenth century most composers  did   little but imitate the Beethovenian symphonic form, but Farrenc and other  began introducing new sounds.

Farrance as a teacher of piano technique and  a soloist  had an advanced knowledge of  musical composition and the work displayed an understanding of musical chiaroscuro. Her ability to create contrasts of light and dark and the subtle nuances in between make it one of the important Romantic symphonies.

Her Symphony No 3 which was only ever performed once during her lifetime owes much to the legacy of Haydn  and there ais something  of a  homage to Beethoven in the drumbeats of the second movement. The work has a confidence and drama which should dispel any notion of her composing “soft”: or “feminine “ music. The final movement in particular is filled with a remarkable tension, almost operatic in scale.

The other “rediscovered” work on the programme was George Gershwin’s Concerto in F of 1925, one of the most extended work for piano and orchestra at the time. It did however reach a wide public with a  virtuoso performance by Oscar Levant’s in Gene Kelly film musical “An American in Paris”.

There is a  feverish rush to the work filled with rhythmic energy and slick melodies. Gershwin managed to combine the classical tradition of Liszt and Tchaikovsky with the hints of jazz, show tunes and Scott Joplin. 

Pianist Somi Kim brilliantly  emphasized the lonely-blues quality of the opening piano theme with a languid approach and  played the swelling romantic theme at the  heart of the first movement’s heart,  without  being oversentimental.

At times she played with a tender leisureliness while at other she unleashed  a dynamic and spirited assault, the orchestra providing a syncopated  background to  her effortless trills and attacks.

Conductor Holly Mathieson performed like  a dynamic exotic butterfly, expertly guiding the orchestra with graceful movements  along with the occasional flourish.   

Future APO Concert

On the Danube

July 8

A concert of Viennese music from the nineteenth and twentieth century.

J. Strauss II On the Beautiful Blue Danube
Korngold Violin Concerto
Mahler Blumine
Brahms Symphony No.3

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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