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Richmond Symphony: Richard Wagner, Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, Cesar Franck, Symphony in D minor

Arthur Fagen [.....] pulled off at least a semi-miracle in the second of two Metro Collection chamber-orchestra concerts. He obtained fine sonorities, proper balances, even a bloom to string sound ..... Fagen also demonstrated mastery of Austro-German classical and romantic style, not surprising from a conductor who has spent much of the past decade working in Central Europe.

His handling of Wagner’s "Siegfried Idyll," with long-breathed phrasing and modest applications of portamento, was high-romantic without lapsing into mannerism. His brisk pacing and sharp accenting of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor accommodated the more assertive treatment that the "historically informed" movement has brought to music of the classical period – but, again, without quirky interpretive distractions, and without trying to make modern instruments sound antique.

Clarke Bustard, November 8, 2009
..... Maestro Fagen clearly knew what he was about. He had prepared his musicians carefully, also instilling in them a feel for the textures and nature of the chosen repertoire, two well known classics by Richard Wagner and Cesar Franck... To the contemporary piece first, which came between a performance of music for Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Wagner’s opera, “Gotterdammerung,” and the Franck D Minor Symphony... Earlier, conductor Fagen made sure that the reading of the Rhine Journey music featured burnished brass and luxuriant strings, just as Wagner called for. He also didn’t shortchange Franck’s D Minor, his single symphony and most popular work, which makes abundant instrumental demands as the score introduces and develops two contrasting moods, one that reflects calm and a sense of reverence, the other that stresses passion in climaxes introduced cyclically throughout the three moments. Tuesday’s performance befittingly espoused the quiet passages and seethed intensity when the music demanded decibels. And as should have occurred, the conflicting attitudes merged into a unified musical statement.

Peter Jacobi,, November 5, 2009

[About "Nanking! Nanking! A Threnody for Orchestra and Pipa" (2000)]  .....Making music, rather than cataclysmic noise, of these sections requires tight control over orchestral forces, as well as a keen ear for instrumental balances and for the quantity and quality of sound that a concert hall can accommodate. A conductor also must effectively contrast the battle scenes with much quieter sections in which the leading voice is a pipa, or Chinese lute. Lutes generally are low-volume instruments, and the pipa is among the quietest and most subtle of lutes. Fagen and the orchestra negotiated the battle scenes at an energy level suggesting abandon. The delicacy of the lute and its accompanists in the orchestra made as strong an impression as the brassy, percussive explosions in this performance. Fagen framed the Bright Sheng work with 19th-century evergreens, Beethoven’s "Egmont"
Overture and Franck’s Symphony in D minor. In both, as in Wagner’s "Siegfried Idyll" last weekend, the conductor obtained a big, warm romantic sonority without muddying colors or obscuring musical details.

The "Egmont" sounded warm ....  Fagen and the orchestra made the Franck an unusually engaging experience, sustaining momentum in tempos that threaten to plod and taking care to reveal Franck’s new wrinkles in repetitions and reappearances of the motifs around which this symphony is built. He also drew the fullest, warmest bass-string sound that the orchestra has produced since moving back into the Carpenter Theatre.

Clarke Bustard, November 14, 2009

Creating visual images in one's head can be a useful way of listening to symphonic music. But it would be best to halt the imagination somewhere around the middle of "Nanking! Nanking! A Threnody for Orchestra and Pipa."  ...... A threnody is an elegy or song for the dead. Sheng's notes on the piece say it is "not a recreation of the barbarity." Yet this work, composed in 2000, contains some of the most literal representations of violence ever to be heard from an orchestra. Under the baton of Arthur Fagen the Richmond Symphony performed this challenging work at Saturday's Masterworks concert with Yang Wei on pipa, a Chinese lute. Fagen and the Richmond Symphony deserve high marks for introducing this piece to Richmond. .... [in] Franck's Symphony in D minor ..... Fagen kept the tempos brisk and brought a full, balanced sound from the orchestra.The evening started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture, which Fagen also kept moving along.

Angela Lehman-Rios, Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 16, 2009

Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur

Akustische Verbesserungen im Winterthurer Stadthaus – Uraufführung von Rolf Urs Ringger
Das Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur unter der Leitung von Arthur Fagen verhalf Ringgers Werk zu einer gelungenen Uraufführung. Danach gab es mit dem Geiger Sergej Krylov ein schönes Miteinander in Mendelssohns Violinkonzert e-Moll op. 64. Zauberhafte Momente entstanden, Krylov agierte als Primus inter Pares, was die sinfonische Seite des Werks unterstreicht. Umwerfend seine Zugabe, der «Obsession» betitelte erste Satz aus der Sonate No. 2 für Violine solo von Eugène Ysaÿe. Dass der Dirigent Arthur Fagen gerne einen kernigen Klang und klare Konturen mag, zeigte er in der Sinfonie Nr. 4 A-Dur («Italienische») von Mendelssohn, für welche er die bläserbetonte Fassung von 1833/34 wählte.
Alfred Zimmerlin, 23. Oktober 2009, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Musik so fantasiereich wie Träume
….. Dank einem Grundpuls, den Ringger trotz allen figurativen und rhythmischen Varianten praktisch nie verlässt. Und an diesem Grundpuls hielt der Gastdirigent Arthur Fagen unbeirrbar fest, denn sonst hätte sich vielleicht die verwirkliche Fülle des Stoffes nicht in eine hörbare Ordnung bringen lassen. Das Musikkollegium war der zuverlässige Mitgestalter, der in allen zahlreichen - oft sehr kurzen - Soli wie in den reicheren Gruppierungen instrumental- und auch ensembletechnisch bestens mithielt.
Der russische Geiger Sergej Krylow stellte sich dann als akribisch detailbewusster Interpret des Mendelssohnkonzertes vor, das er bis an die extremen Grenzen der Schnelligkeit, Dynamik und Agogik führte, wobei ihm Dirigent Fagen und das Orchester mit beeindruckender Hellhörigkeit sekundierten. Mit der selten zu hörenden zweiten Fassung der «Italienischen» von  Mendelssohn krönten Dirigent und Orchester den Abend, etwas stürmisch in den Rahmensätzen, aber wirklich prachtliebend und dementsprechend so berauschend wie berührend in der blühenden Melodiosität der Mittelsätze.
Rita Wolfensberger, Der Landbote, October 23, 2009

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