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DIAMOND: Indiana University Chamber Orch. & Philharmonic Orch/Arthur Fagen/Naxos
DIAMOND: Rounds for String Orchestra. Music for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Symphony No. 6 / Indiana University Chamber Orch. & Philharmonic Orch.; Arthur Fagen, cond / Naxos 8.559842

Arthur Fagen’s Superb Diamond Performances
The late David Diamond was a composer who prided himself on being part of the “Americana” scene in classical music while remaining an iconoclast […] The Rounds for String Orchestra were composed in 1944 at the request of Dimitri Mitropoulos, who wanted something to cheer him up in the midst of those dark, terrible times […] […] such soft music as the “Balcony Scene,” where you can actually hear the vibrato of the strings as clearly as if you were sitting in the front row of a concert hall. The tenderness and beauty that Fagen and his Indiana University forces draw out of this music is truly exceptional, and “Juliet and her Nurse” is played with a nice, light touch that does not trivialize the score. “The Death of Romeo and Juliet” is more tender and less dramatic than in others’ music for this play, but Fagen enhances its effectiveness […] Then we come to the Sixth Symphony from 1951-54, of which this is the first-ever recording […] This may well be the finest single collection of Diamond’s music, and surely one played by a great interpreter who understands his aesthetic. You need to hear it, particularly the symphony!

Lynn René Bayley, Artsmusiclounge, April 2018

The performances by the Indiana University Chamber Orchestra are likewise exceptional and compare very favorably with prior recordings of the work by Schwarz on Delos and others I’ve heard. I actually prefer the greater clarity and delineation of instruments on Fagen’s Naxos recording to the sound on the Delos recording of Romeo. Fagen has a keen ear for orchestral sonority and color, and recording engineer Konrad Strauss and his colleagues have ably assisted him in this, as well as making the acoustic qualities of the two very different halls in which these works were recorded match each other well. This disc therefore comes highly recommended to all enthusiasts of tonal American music.

David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare, June 2018

Firmly rooted in Classical tradition, scrupulous in its avoidance of dodecaphonic techniques, emotionally expressive but restrained (never as overtly Romantic as, say, Samuel Barber), Diamond’s music would probably find an audience if it was performed with enough frequency.

That would be especially true if performances showed the care and obvious love demonstrated by Arthur Fagen and his Indiana University musicians. It is shameful that Diamond’s Sixth Symphony had to wait 61 years after its premiere, by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony, for its first recording […] Good music schools today have fine orchestral ensembles, and the University of Indiana is no exception. Fagen has had a successful career in Europe, particularly as chief conductor of both the Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra in Dortmund between 2002 and 2007. He served for many years as music director of the Queens Symphony in New York. Effectively conducting Diamond’s music requires both a strong rhythmic pulse and an innate feel for a lyrical line, and Fagen demonstrates both.

The recorded sound for this release is clear, well-balanced, and warm. 

Henry Fogel, Fanfare June 2018

Rounds, written in 1944, is a delightful, optimistic work full of great energy and imagination […] There have been at least seven previous commercial releases of the work, including one by Celibidache! Some of the recordings feature a full complement of strings, while others, like this current release, a smaller group. The work makes good sense either way, but I rather prefer the intimacy provided, as in this recording, of a smaller ensemble of strings. Fagen maintains a somewhat slower tempo than the other available recordings and brings a greater clarity to the counterpoint. The playing is clean, precise, beautifully articulated; a joy to hear […] The Sixth received its first performances with the Boston Symphony under the direction of Charles Munch […] While it is not my intention to deny the value of the Boston performances—I still treasure them—Munch’s tempos obscured much of the inner workings of the music. Listening to Fagen’s reading has been a revelation, exposing more of the structural subtleties and bringing clarity to immense harmonic variety in the music.

The orchestra provides first-rate, superb performances. They negotiate the requirements of the music with great precision. Fagen’s interpretations are every bit up to the essence of the music. He clearly has great control of his ensemble. This recording is a wonderful contribution to our understanding of a highly gifted composer.

Karl F. Miller, Fanfare, June 2018

Here we have the Indiana University Chamber and Philharmonic Orchestras under Arthur Fagen with enthusiastic and vibrant readings of three middle period gems, namely his Symphony No. 6, Rounds for String Orchestra, and Romeo and Juliet.

One notes from the first the quality of the performances and the concentric intensity of the music. Arthur Fagen and the Indiana bring the scores to life with fine nuance and bold strokes. And each work is in its own way exemplary and a world unto itself.

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music, June 2018

Rounds (1944) was from a commission by the NY Philharmonic conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos. [...] The orchestra here is captured in a drier acoustic lending the performance an extra edge of excitement as well.  The performance is about as spot on as one might expect with great energy and attention to articulation.

Another of Diamond’s popular works is the five-movement Music for Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (1947). [...] The performance here is quite convincing and very engaging. Fagen’s interpretation is a bit quicker in spots than Schwarz.  The sound though is fabulous.

No less than Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony brought Diamond’s Symphony No. 6 (1951-54) its world premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1957 [...] The orchestra manages to help lead the listener well with each iteration of the thematic cell clear in the texture.

The Indiana orchestras have certainly handed American Music fans a real treasure of a recording.  We can only hope it will inspire these young musicians to explore the rich heritage of our own symphonic heritage and encourage our own professional orchestras to do so as well.  The World Premiere recording of the symphony would make this a significant release at any cost and it is certainly worth one’s time even if it is among some of Diamond’s more visceral music.

www.maestrosteve.xanga.com, June 18, 2018

ARTHUR FAGEN CONDUCTS MUSIC BY DAVID DIAMOND
INTERVIEW BY DAVID DEBOOR CANFIELD

Chair of orchestral conducting on the faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University since 2008 and music director of the Atlanta Opera since 2010, Arthur Fagen has had an extensive career, conducting more than 70 operas at major opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera, Vienna State Opera, and Deutsche Oper Berlin, plus concerts with the Tokyo Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, Baltimore Symphony, Munich Radio Orchestra, and many others. Born in New York City in 1951, Fagen studied with Max Rudolf at the Curtis Institute, at the Salzburg Mozarteum, and with Hans Swarowsky in Vienna. His recordings have been issued on the Naxos, BMG, and Thorofon labels. I was able to catch up with this perpetually busy musician in May of 2018 to query him on several matters, including the disc under review below.

Maestro, with all the concert activities you are engaged in all over the world, how far in advance do you have to plan your schedule?

Generally, at least a year ahead of schedule, although some guest engagements are on shorter notice.

What led you into an interest in music, and how old were you when your career path seemed clear to you?

When I was five years old, my grandfather bought me a 78-rpm set of classical records for children. I listened to them daily and soon graduated to WQXR, the primary classical music radio station in New York. Originally, after studying horn, violin, and piano, I had hopes of becoming a concert pianist. These hopes were dashed when I was about 15, after hearing Ashkenazy play all the Chopin Études, op. 10 in Carnegie Hall. I realized that even if I practiced 12 hours a day, there was no possibility of my coming even close to that level. A few years ago, I ran into Ashkenazy at Heathrow Airport and introduced myself. I told him that his Carnegie Hall concert changed the course of my life—probably for the better. He laughed and actually knew who I was, as we were both guest conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande that season. (I had also conducted his nephew in a concert that presented winners of the Queen Elisabeth Competition.) When I was 19, I was an active participant in the conducting course of the Salzburger Mozarteum. Everything went very smoothly and I was encouraged to pursue a conducting career.

Can you cite especially important influences upon you by any particular musicians in your growing-up years?

I was very much influenced by my teachers Laszlo Halasz, Max Rudolf, and Hans Swarowsky, as well as by Christoph von Dohnányi, whom I assisted in Frankfurt. In my early 20s, I played for Tito Gobbi’s master classes in Florence. He opened my eyes to the great depth and detail to which one has to approach the Italian operatic repertoire.

Do you approach music-making differently in the academic environment you have at Indiana University as opposed to that found in a professional orchestra? Do you, for instance, seek to educate the students while you’re making music with them? If so, how?

Yes, of course. In an academic situation, one has to be far more specific about certain techniques of orchestral playing, such as bowings and practicing of difficult passages in the strings, as well as intonation, tonguing, and balance in the winds, etc. Also, I do not shy away about discussing the structure and character of a piece of music, something which I would communicate to a professional orchestra in a much more concise fashion.

Were the mechanics of recording with the student orchestras significantly different from those of recording with professional ensembles? Were any portions of these recordings taken from live concerts of these works? Did the students’ class schedules pose logistical problems for the recording schedule? 

The mechanics of recording with the student orchestras were very similar to any professional recording situation. Konrad Strauss, who is head of the recording department, is an excellent producer and engineer. There was no live concert of the Diamond works, nor was there any logistical problem with classes at Indiana University as the orchestra rehearsal times are set in the afternoon when the students would not have other music-related classes.

Auer Hall at Indiana University has such a wonderful acoustic environment; I’m wondering why you did not use it for the symphony as well as for the other two pieces. Was the stage too small on which to fit the entire Philharmonic comfortably?

Yes! Indeed, Auer Hall has wonderful acoustics, but the stage is too small for a very large-size orchestra.

I’m curious, naturally, on your choice of the music of David Diamond as the subject of the present CD. I was happy to see this disc come my way, as I believe he is still underrated. How do you think he fits into the spectrum of American music? 

I have known of David Diamond since my teen years in New York. I think that he is one of the important American composers of the mid-20th century, along with composers like Peter Mennin, Walter Piston, Samuel Barber, etc.

I have read that his career suffered because he refused to go along with the then-fashionable avant-garde trends in the 1960s. Is this true? Do you believe now that we’re in a much more tolerant era in regard to the styles that composers are permitted to write in, that Diamond will gain the recognition he deserves? 

He was certainly not the most avant-garde composer of the 1960s, but the musical language of the Sixth Symphony certainly stretches our notion of the traditional symphony beyond conventional borders without employing special aleatoric and other avant-garde effects. There is far greater flexibility nowadays, but tastes vary widely. For example, in the U.S. we are experiencing, especially operatically, a very tonal and accessible idiom, as exemplified by Jake Heggie and William Bolcom. In Germany, where I lived and conducted for 16 years, tastes are quite different, and the wonderful operas of Aribert Reimann or Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten are considered perhaps too dissonant to get much play in the US.

Did the fact that the Sixth Symphony had not yet been recorded play a part in your decision to record this particular work?

Absolutely! It is one of the goals of Naxos to fill in the gaps of important works that have not yet been recorded, and Diamond’s Symphony No. 6 fits the bill perfectly.

Do you have any other recording projects planned, or in mind, either at Indiana University or elsewhere?

We are in the midst of recording at Indiana University a Henry Cowell CD for the American Classics series at Naxos. Also, Klaus Heymann of Naxos and I are discussing a continuation of the Martinů recordings in the Czech Republic next season. I have already recorded the complete symphony and piano concerto cycles of Martinů.

I’m delighted to hear of these recording projects. For years, I wondered why there were not more recordings coming out of Jacobs School of Music, one of the greatest schools of music anywhere, and finally there seems to be movement in that direction. Can you comment on what has brought about this change?

Several years ago, I set up a contact between Gwyn Richards, dean of the Jacobs School and Klaus Heymann, CEO of Naxos. Mr. Heymann came for a visit to Bloomington, and thus this collaboration was born. I am in agreement that the Jacobs School of Music should be recording, both because it is a rewarding educational experience for the students to be challenged to play at the level of a fine professional orchestra, and because it enhances the reputation of the Jacobs School of Music due to the worldwide distribution of Naxos. 

You have been recording for many years. Could you tell us how you got started?

After a successful concert in the early 1980s in Berlin with the Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester (formerly RIAS, then the RSO, but now the Deutsche Sinfonie-Orchester), I was frequently invited to make recordings for the Bavarian Radio with the Munich Radio Orchestra, Bamberg Philharmonic, and Munich Philharmonic, as well as recordings for WDR Cologne and SFB Berlin. These were recordings made for radio broadcasts and not for CD, but the process was essentially the same. This was a way to introduce the German radio listening public to works that were not frequently heard in the concert halls. I had the opportunity to record some wonderful but lesser-known works by composers like Eduard Tubin, Ernest Bloch, Edward Smaldone, Copland (not the well-known works), and many other contemporary pieces.

If you had an opportunity, are there other gaps in the recorded repertory you would like to fill?

Yes—especially Mieczysław Weinberg (Moshe Vainberg). 

 

 

Carmen, Georges Bizet, Atlanta Opera, April/May 2018
Conductor Arthur Fagen keeps the emphasis on strong rhythm in that frenzied scene and elsewhere such as the overture, giving fast passages energy and excitement while also paying due attention to slower melodies, varied textures as they move across orchestral sections.
Andrew Alexander, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, April 30, 2018

The Atlanta Opera puts a playful, wily spin on the smoldering “Carmen” Underpinning the whole production was the Atlanta Opera Orchestra performance of Bizet’s memorable music — led by music director Arthur Fagen — with brisk but never overstated energy whether accompanying featured vocalists, choruses or choreography. The orchestra, together with the fine singing, offered up that special dimension that makes opera something far more than theater accompanied by music.
Mark Gresham, Artsartl.com, April 30, 2018



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