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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

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

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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