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July 2013
Menahem Pressler under the baton of Arthur Fagen gave a sumptuous feast in Indiana with the Festival Orchestra

The Festival Orchestra had only rehearsed since the Monday before Friday’s concert, but sounded completely comfortable in its repertoire and awfully satisfying to hear. Maestro Arthur Fagen, on the podium, proved very much in charge. And, in mid-concert, the remarkable Menahem Pressler came on stage to extract magic from the piano.What more could one have asked for? The combination amounted to a rewarding occasion for the good-sized audience gathered in the Musical Arts Center Friday evening, an audience that responded with enthusiasm throughout.
Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to the opera “Der Freischutz,” for instance, received all the benefits that come from a conductor who has vast experience in opera. Fagen, well aware of the overture’s thematic ties to a story of fantasy, mystery and triumph of good over evil, drew plentiful drama from the score: portentous violin tremolos, pizzicatos that warn rather than warm, builds that symbolize struggle, a climax that heralds a happy ending. And, thank you, the whole of the overture was played sumptuously.
To spotlight the Festival Orchestra, Fagen chose Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn and the Richard Strauss tone poem, “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.” [The orchestra] handled the often intricate Brahms Variations with aplomb; Fagen managed to lift the reading from simply being tidy, in itself not an easy task, to a lustrous state.

Meant to reflect a figure of mischief, Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel” demands auras of adventure and wit, mockery and danger, the impish and rascality. All such the Festival Orchestra’s reading had, along with a welcome sense of flow and aural glow. The maestro and his players obviously had made the most of their short preparation time together. Theirs was an effective pairing. Together, with the distinguished Menahem Pressler, they gave the Summer Festival a noteworthy start.

Peter Jacobi, July 17, 2013