International Women’s Day – a report from the music department

As the posting of this week’s blog coincides with International Women’s Day, let’s kick off by quoting Frédérique Petrides, the female violinist, conductor, teacher and publisher who was a pioneering advocate for women in music. Born in Belgium in 1903, she emigrated to America in 1923; here’s what she had to say in 1935:

“Freed from the shackles and tatters of the old tradition and prejudice, American and European women in music are now universally hailed as important factors in the concert and teaching fields and as … fast developing assets in the creative spheres of the profession.”

More than seventy-five years on, it’s interesting to consider how her words still carry substance, and a pleasant task to examine just how well female musicians are represented in the Naxos catalogues, both in terms of composers, conductors and performers. To cut to the chase, the short answer is: significantly.

xyrion-trioOne of this month’s new releases is Volume 5 of the complete Beethoven Piano Trios recorded by the all-female Xyrion Trio (Naxos 8.572343). With the American Record Guide having been “impressed with every recording” in previous volumes, this new disc, which includes Beethoven’s towering Archduke Trio, is well worth sampling.

The recording was made in Sandhausen, Germany, at the auditorium named after Clara Wieck, aka Clara Schumann, who was a distinguished pianist and composer in her own right, not just the supportive wife to Robert Schumann. Her delightful Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann (Naxos 8.553501) are a good starting point for anyone unfamiliar with her output.

There are some fascinating works to be found among the recordings of contemporary female composers in the Naxos catalogue and, as an experience of some vivid stylistic and geographical contrasts, the following are well worth exploring:

• From the American composer Jennifer Higdon, her disc of highly colourful and accessible chamber music, that includes Voices, the Piano Trio and Impressions (Naxos American Classics 8.559298)

• With her Chinese parentage and Canadian upbringing, the Asian hues in Vivian Fung’s disc entitled Dreamscapes exemplifies her highly imaginative sense of coloration (Naxos Canadian Classics 8.573009)

• Having emigrated from Russia to America in 1990, Alla Pavlova’s symphonic works are her hallmark; Nos 1 and 3 form a good pair for an introduction to her stylistic imprint (Naxos 21st Century Classics 8.557157)

Female conductors are found in increasing numbers nowadays; pre-eminent among them are two who have made numerous recordings for Naxos, with more in the pipeline: Marin Alsop and JoAnn Falletta.

marin-alsopAlsop is currently music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a post she took up in 2007. She’s also the recently appointed principal conductor of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, with whom she recorded Prokofiev’s Symphony No 5 and The Year 1941 (Naxos 8.573029), the first volume in a complete cycle she and the orchestra will make of Prokofiev’s symphonies. The disc found itself in the Critics’ Choice list last month: “…exceptional account of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony…partnered by a revelatory performance of The Year 1941.” – BBC Music Magazine

Falletta is music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra with whom she recorded a Gershwin disc for Naxos that JoAnn-Fallettaincludes the Piano Concerto, the Second Rhapsody and the I Got Rhythm Variations (Naxos Blu-ray Audio NBD0025). It, too, was the focus of attention from BBC Music Magazine: “A sizzling Gershwin collection.”

Her February release of music by Duke Ellington (Naxos 8.559737) was similarly well received (“…big band jazzy jolt … total conviction…” MusicWeb International), all of which strongly suggests that her new disc of music (Naxos 8.573034) by EJ Moeran with Northern Ireland’s Ulster Orchestra, of which she is the principal conductor, is a treat in store for April.

8.111120The Naxos catalogue of outstanding female instrumentalists and singers is bursting at the seams, but perhaps it’s female pianists who figure most in the collective memory. Naxos gathered them together in recordings of performances made in the first half of the twentieth century, from 1921-1955. The five volumes of Women at the Piano echo with famous names in a comprehensive anthology of historic keyboard performances. Here’s a quick dip into the contents pages:

Volume 1 (Naxos Historical 8.111120)
Myra Hess – Poissons d’Or (Debussy)
Harriet Cohen – Paean (Bax)
Marguerite Long – Alfama (Milhaud)
Moura Lympany – Les Jeux d-eaux a la Villa d’Este (Liszt)

Volume 3 (Naxos Historical 8.111217)
Yvonne Loriod – Les Sons Impalpables du Reve (Messiaen)
Phyllis Sellick – Le Tombeau de Couperin (Ravel)
Clara Haskil – Variations in F minor (Haydn)

…and the list goes on!

idil-biretOne living pianist who corners a considerable chunk of the catalogue all for herself is the Turkish artist Idil Biret: witness the dedicated Biret Solo Edition (5 vols), Concerto Edition (5 vols), Archive Edition (14 vols) and Beethoven Edition (19 vols), all of which can be found on Naxos Music Library and ClassicsOnline.

I started with a quotation that has stood the test of time, so let me end with another that will probably endure for a while yet:

“I said: ‘Well, gosh, can’t we find some women that are also qualified?’ And they brought us whole binders full of women.” (Mitt Romney, 2012 US presidential debate)

And, in response, we brought you: “Binders full of women … composers.” (ClassicsOnline 9.00149, 2012 preferential release) where you can 9.00149become acquainted with a whole raft of female talent, including Sofia Gubaidulina (Russia), Eve Beglarian (USA), Phyllis Tate (England), Elisabetta Brusa (Italy) and Cecile Chaminade (France).