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Eight stellar new classical albums for International Women's Day

Dalia Stasevska, chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, which has a new album of works by Finnish composer Helvi Leivskä.
Nikolaj Lund
Dalia Stasevska, chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, which has a new album of works by Finnish composer Helvi Leivskä.

On Friday, March 8, WRTI will celebrate International Women’s Day with a full day of music composed by women. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., we’ll be playing music by more than 80 composers, ranging from the 12th-century chants of Hildegard von Bingen to cutting-edge contemporary works by Caroline Shaw and Anna Thorvaldsdottir.

This year we’re especially excited to feature several new albums that have come out since the last International Women’s Day. Here are a few.

Dalia Stasevska (conductor), Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Helvi Leivskä: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1

Oliver Treindl (piano), Ari Rasilainen (conductor), Staatskapelle Weimar, Leivskä: Piano Concerto & Symphony No. 1

Although Helvi Leivskä’s music was frequently performed and critically appreciated during her six-decade career, which spanned from the early 1920s until her passing in 1982, it was almost entirely unavailable on record until the release of this pair of albums last year.

The omission feels particularly baffling in light of conductor Dalia Stasevska’s magnificent performances of two of the Finnish composer’s symphonies with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, each of which thrillingly captures a different facet of her bold, yet enigmatic sound world.

Not to be outdone, German pianist Oliver Treindl, a steadfast champion of unsung repertoire, delivers an equally bravura performance of Leivskä’s early Piano Concerto, a work long thought to be lost and only recently reconstructed from orchestral parts.

Heike Matthiesen (guitar), Guitar Divas

Until the late 19th century, the guitar was widely considered a “feminine” instrument, relegated mainly for accompanying roles and to be played by women in domestic environments. The four early Romantic era composers featured on German guitarist Heike Matthiesen’s masterful final album — sadly, she passed away from cancer last December — transcended both this stigma and failures of imagination of the existing guitar literature, audaciously pushing the instrument’s technical and aesthetic potential. Be prepared to turn your amp up to 11!

Quynh Nguyen (piano), The Flower of France: Germaine Tailleferre’s Works for Piano

Germaine Tailleferre began playing piano at age four, and had already written her first piano piece by the time she entered Kindergarten. Over the ensuing 80 years, this French composer wrote hundreds of works for the instrument — an intimate relationship traced by the Vietnamese-American pianist Quynh Nguyen in this tender, idiomatic and richly nuanced survey.

Camille Delaforge (conductor), Ensemble Il Caravaggio, Mademoiselle Duval: Les Génies

Christophe Rousset (conductor), Les Talens Lyrics, Louise Bertin: Fausto

We know next to nothing about the composer known only as Mademoiselle Duval, who, as an 18-year-old in 1736 became the second woman ever to premiere a work at the Paris Opera. What this vibrant first recording of her opera-ballet Les Génies makes abundantly clear, however, is that Duval was a genius, gifted with a natural flair for conjuring stylish melodies and captivating melodrama.

Louise Bertin was a similarly precocious 26-year-old when her opera Fausto premiered at Paris’s Théâtre-Italien in 1831. Unlike Les Génies, an immediate hit, Bertin’s adaptation of Goethe’s novel was poorly reviewed and only saw three performances. This brilliant live recording from conductor Christophe Rousset, his ensemble Les Talens Lyrics, and a superb cast of singers, suggests that this tempestuously lyrical work was badly misappraised and long overdue for a revival.

Sigvards Klava (conductor), Latvian Radio Choir, Lucija Garuta: Apple Tree

The Latvian pianist and composer Lucija Garuta was one of the first prominent female musicians from the Baltic states to achieve widespread acclaim in Europe. In addition to being a prolific composer of instrumental music, Garuta, who studied in Paris with Paul Dukas and Alfred Cortot, wrote dozens of a cappella choral works, many in the style of traditional Latvian folk songs. Each of the 21 selections represented here is more charmingly pastoral than the next, sung with immaculate blend and stunning delicacy by Garuta’s compatriots in the Latvian Radio Choir.

Sakari Oramo (conductor), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Bacewicz: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1

Hot on the heels of last year’s scintillating album dedicated to Croatian composer Dora Pejačević, conductor Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra have turned their attention to another overlooked 20th-century symphonist: the Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz. Written in the early 1950s, Bacewicz’s Third and Fourth Symphonies reflect both the lingering traumas and nascent hope of post-World War II Poland. Oramo reconciles these conflicting emotions with exceptional balance, compassion, and clarity.

Listen to WRTI on March 8, International Women’s Day, for a full range of music composed by women. Tune in from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m at WRTI-FM 90.1, on our app, and here at wrti.org.

Zev is thrilled to be WRTI’s classical program director, where he hopes to steward and grow the station’s tremendous legacy on the airwaves of Greater Philadelphia.