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WILLIAM L. DAWSON Negro Folk Symphony. ULYSSES KAY Fantasy Variations. Umbrian Scene - Arthur Fagen, ORF Vienna RSO - NAXOS 8.559870 (64:42)

Arthur Fagen conducts each score with incisive authority, keeping the salient aspects in keen balance and drawing rich, animated playing from the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. It’s high time for American orchestras to programme these exceptional works.

Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone, September 2020

This new recording by conductor Arthur Fagen and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra gives the score a propulsive finesse that illuminates its many twists and turns. As the music director of the Atlanta Opera for the past decade, and a good bit of conducting opera in Europe prior to that, Fagen’s understanding of drama in music is clear. The performance has a very cinematic feel: it sounds like the soundtrack to a film of its era, full of adventures and dangers and triumphs.

For all its charm, the Negro Folk Symphony all but disappeared for decades. This energetic and detailed new recording may do much to bring this work to public attention, particularly at a time when social justice and racial fairness issues are at the forefront of America’s national attention.

On this disc, Fagen and his orchestra perform two substantial Kay works, the Fantasy Variations and the Umbrian Scene […] these colorful works – performed with style and verve — deserve to emerge from relative obscurity and into more of today’s concert programs. 

Melinda Bargreen,, September 27, 2020 

Ce programme Dawson/Kay est mené avec enthousiasme par l’Orchestre ORF de la Radio de Vienne dans un enregistrement de janvier 2019. Son chef Arthur Fagen, que l’on retrouve dans plusieurs programmes Naxos dont des partitions de Martinu, dirige le tout avec un beau sens du dosage des rythmes et des intentions musicales.

Jean Lacroix,, August 10, 2020

Arthur Fagen draws some immaculate playing from his Viennese Orchestra; the challenging Kay pieces in particular are despatched with impressive dexterity. Detailed annotations and some sumptuous sound quality complete an exciting addition to the American music catalogue.

Gerald Fenech,, July 31, 2020

This new version from Vienna under the accomplished American conductor Arthur Fagen rises to the same level of quality as the two previous recordings (both of which have been reviewed in Fanfare), and it has the distinction of taking an African-American work to Europe.

Fagen’s conducting is always sympathetic to the shifting idioms represented here. Born in New York City, he has had a highly varied career. He has conducted at the Met and the Vienna State Opera, and like other talented musicians taking advantage of Europe’s immersion in classical music, Fagen has thrived there, with appearances at the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie. He’s done a real service to American music here and deserves to be recognized for it—as madly as the French took up jazz, or individual composers like Kurt Weill and Maurice Ravel were influenced by it, American classical music didn’t really make an impression beyond Copland and Gershwin, perhaps.

Fagen delivers polished performances and gets excellent playing from the Vienna Radio Symphony, no doubt with minimal rehearsal time.  It is heartening to see from his artist bio that his career spans both Europe and the U.S., given this country’s ignoble tradition of overlooking our own conductors. The fact that Fagen has made acclaimed recordings for Naxos of Martinů’s symphonies and piano concertos is unique for an American.  Since 2008 he has held a chair in conducting at the music school of Indiana University, Bloomington. For an American conductor to have a rising arc of success like this is still too rare.

This disc is the best modern collection of outstanding orchestral works by African-American composers and is warmly recommended to any listener who wants to know more about a shared national heritage. The three works make for rewarding listening on musical grounds alone, leaving aside their historical significance.

Four stars: A must-listen of three outstanding works by black composers

Huntley Dent, Fanfare, July 2020

Latest / Greatest: July 2020

[…] here are our favorite recordings released last month. 

ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Arthur Fagen, conductor 

It’s a shame that the wider musical world has had to wait so long to make the acquaintance of the works on this album, recorded last year by conductor Arthur Fagen and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra for Naxos. 

Headlining is Fagen’s sure-handed interpretation of William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony — only the third commercial recording of it to be released since its 1934 premiere.

Zev Kane, New York Public Radio WQXR, July 21, 2020 

[…] Dawson’s lone symphony merits more attention than it has received. A fresh approach to it by the conductor Arthur Fagen and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, released in June on the Naxos label, provides us with another crucial look at this complex, vibrant opus. During some climaxes, this interpretation leans away from the straightforward, triumphal connotations that were fashionable in performances of symphonic Americana at the mid-century. Yet because exuberance isn’t the only goal of this music, the cooler sheen of the Vienna’s ensemble sound offers an incisive look at Dawson’s experimentalism.

SETH COLTER WALLS, New York Times, July 4, 2020

With its American Classics series, Naxos continues to draw attention to works that deserve to be better known to contemporary audiences. The material by African-American composers William Dawson (1899-1990) and Ulysses Kay (1917-1995) performed by ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (Vienna RSO) under Arthur Fagen's direction on this latest collection certainly falls into that category: Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony was received enthusiastically when it was premiered on November 14th, 1934, no doubt in part due to the resonant folk themes and spirituals Dawson wove into its three parts; the two single-movement works by Kay are no less memorable for being so expressive.

That Dawson's symphony isn't better known is a tad mystifying, considering how much there is to recommend the work, its compact thirty-three-minute total but one of its many appealing details. Kay's two would likewise sit comfortably alongside any number of works on a symphony orchestra's concert programme. This release is therefore valuable not only for its musical content but for returning the composers and their works to the spotlight., July 2020

The names of William L. Dawson (1899-1990) and Ulysses Kay (1917-1995), two African-Americans, it should be noted, are not among those usually heard in the canonical repertoire of Western scholarly music. It’s therefore a very good omen that the prestigious Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Arthur Fagen, is focusing on orchestral works by these composers who, along with William Grant Still, Florence Price, Margaret Bonds. and others, shaped the development of 19th- and 20th-century African-American classical music.

[…] With what is only the third major recording of Negro Folk Symphony (1963, 1992), Maestro Fagen and the Viennese orchestra deliver an elegant and poignant performance of a brilliant and varied repertoire. In a context where we are more than ever led to wonder about a lack of diversity, and where the existence of such music must be noted, this album comes at the right time.

Alexandre Villemaire,, The best sounds from all around, June 2020

This recording...has plenty of elegance and fire. Arthur Fagen deftly conducts the orchestra, and to his credit also includes two exemplary works by Ulysses Kay. There are a lot of questions these days about diversity and what American orchestras should and shouldn't be performing. An engaging album like this, with arresting music by two fine American composers, offers some answers.

Tom Huizenga, June 26, 2020, NPR Music, Editor's picks

Das sorgfältige und stimmungsstarke Spiel des ORF-Orchesters aus Wien unter Arthur Fagen sorgt für nachhaltige Interpretationen.

(With care and atmospheric playing of the ORF Orchestra from Vienna under Arthur Fagen ensures lasting interpretations.)

Remy Frank, Pizzicato, Journal about Classical Music, June 27, 2020

GOULD: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Arthur Fagen, Naxos

Four stars: A well-performed collection of fine music

Arthur Fagen and the Vienna Radio Orchestra have the measure of these works; the conductor manages to convey the American and Latin dance idioms to the Austrian musicians, and they sound totally at home in the music. In the slower movements Fagen displays a supple sense of phrase-shaping. Gould asks of the performers a balance of kinetic energy and warm lyricism. Fagen and the Vienna RSO provide both.

This is a lovely collection of fine music that is under-represented in the catalogue, and Naxos’s well-balanced and rich sound, along with excellent notes by Frank K. DeWald, complete the picture. My recommendation is enthusiastic.

Henry Fogel, Fanfare, June 2020

Fantastic Gould Symphonettes on Naxos

American conductor, Arthur Fagen, has this music securely in his DNA. He draws such idiomatic and authentically "American" playing from this great orchestra, I can’t imagine these readings being bettered. 

Playing and conducting are absolutely first rate. And so is the sound. Naxos has really mastered the art of recording the symphony orchestra in the past decade or so, and this one is simply outstanding. The orchestra is natural in perspective, clean and clear in a warm acoustic, with a brilliant "presence" and effortless dynamic range. It helps bring these performances thrillingly to life. This is one of my favorite discs of the year so far. I enjoyed it enormously.

David Rowe, Davidclassicalscds, June 17, 2020

Performances are excellent with the Viennese orchestra under Arthur Fagen's direction in top form […] This is a welcome addition to the Naxos American Composers series., April 2020

Successful in many genres and far from modern developments, the American composer Morton Gould (1913-1996) composed attractive […] music [...] His technical talent for orchestration and orchestral colours cannot be denied. Add to this a flourishing power of imagination and a sure sense of musical eloquence that everyone can easily understand.              

Arthur Fagen and the musicians of the Vienna Radio Orchestra do an excellent job, and since the sound recording is also of the best quality, this CD can be recommended to anyone who has a penchant for lighter symphonic music.

Remy Frank, Pizzicato, Journal about Classical Music, 16/04/2020

Stir in equal parts of Bernstein and Copland, a teaspoon of Gershwin, a pinch of Grofé and a cup of Leroy Anderson, and you get a taste of what the style and sound of American composer Morton Gould (1913-1996) is like. […] Conductor Arthur Fagen was a friend of Morton Gould which explains why he can so easily coax an Austrian ensemble, the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, to slide into American garb with such conviction. It's nice to see the Naxos label still adding titles to their American Classics series which has played a great role in the renewed interest into well known works as well as neglected gems.

Jean-Yves Duperron, Classical Music Sentinel, March 2020

Fagen conducts in a light, airy is crisp, clean and professional

ArtMusic Lounge - March 2020

The multi-functional ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Arthur Fagen, play in an American style “to the manner born” ... Most strongly recommended”

David’s Review Corner March 2020

The attractive and inventive light orchestral music of Morton Gould is still delightful when listened to in the right mood - and particularly when delivered with the panache to be found on this disc.

Classical CD Choice, Barry Forshaw, March 2020

The Latin American Symphonette offers a sultry, well-shaped account of the Tango and some good, clear percussion in the concluding Conga.... Fagen and his orchestra are compelling advocates for this sadly neglected fare.

Jonathan Blumhofer, ArtsFuse

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