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Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony - Kay: Fantasy Variations & Umbrian Scene / Fagen, VRSO

Release Date: 06/26/2020 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559870  
Composer:  William DawsonUlysses S. Kay
Conductor:  Arthur Fagen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Dawson’s lone symphony merits more attention than it has received. - New York TImes

William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony was premiered by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1934 to huge enthusiasm. Its traditional form houses a continuous process of variation and introduces little-known spirituals in fragmentary form, while the work’s recurring motifs, remarkable transitions and syncopations are enhanced in Dawson’s 1952 revision heard here. The Fantasy Variations by composer and teacher Ulysses Kay employs dissonance with great expressivity in a work of textural and coloristic variety. Umbrian Scene, despite its pictorial suggestion, is lean and sombre. Arthur Fagen has conducted at the world’s
Read more most prestigious opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera and Vienna State Opera, and has led acclaimed orchestras such as the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie. He has recently conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philharmonia. Fagen has served as principal conductor in Kassel and Brunswick, chief conductor of the Vlaamse Opera and music director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra. From 2002 to 2007, he was music director of the Dortmund Philharmonic Orchestra and the Dortmund Opera.



This new recording of Dawson's only symphony, the first in almost 30 years, has plenty of elegance and fire, though. Arthur Fagen deftly conducts the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony and also includes two fine works by Ulysses Kay. He was another African American - slightly younger than Dawson, but more prolific. Kay's music also deserves to be heard more. His "Fantasy Variations" from 1963 is brilliantly orchestrated and deceptive.

– National Public Radio (Tom Huizenga)

Recorded only twice before, the last time some three decades ago, the fresh approach to William Levi Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony” by the conductor Arthur Fagen and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra provides us with another crucial look at this complex, vibrant opus. 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. Dawson’s lone symphony merits more attention than it has received.

– New York Times (Seth Colter Walls) Read less

Works on This Recording

Negro Folk Symphony by William Dawson
Conductor:  Arthur Fagen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Fantasy Variations by Ulysses S. Kay
Conductor:  Arthur Fagen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963; USA 
Umbrian Scene by Ulysses S. Kay
Conductor:  Arthur Fagen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Not up to he thype February 24, 2021 By Leslie A. (Washington, DC) See All My Reviews "I have heard thousand of orchestral recordings in my lifetime, including Stokowski's premiere of the Dawson Symphony in Decca. Enough credentials to find this recording quite overrated. First, I should say that there is nothing wrong with the symphony, which is very attractive (that's why I bought this). But the main elements: conducting, playing and recording lie way below excellent standards, especially compared to other Naxos orchestral releases. The coupling of Mr. Kay's composition is, sorry, boring on top. I regret purchasing this." Report Abuse
 The Music of Dawson and Kay June 28, 2020 By Art Music Lady See All My Reviews "William Dawson's symphony, written in 1932-34 but revised in 1954, utilizes African-American themes in a completely different manner from that of his more famous contemporary, William Grant Still. Like his contemporary Florence Price, Dawson “classicalizes” his black themes somewhat more thoroughly than Still, a composer who has not yet been adequately assessed or properly represented on records (most of the existing recordings are too polite and miss the point of his rugged orchestration), but the manner in which he develops his themes and knits the music together is far more interesting. There is a real energy in Dawson’s music that I find missing in that of Price. In the second movement, for instance, titled “Hope in the Night,” Dawson breaks off his initial musical discourse suddenly with a crashing chord, following which we hear a plaintive, melodic theme emerged played by a cello and viola that eventually expands to include the French horn and flute against a pizzicato string background. When the tempo picks up again, the winds introduce another theme which is then developed. Everything about this music is arresting and original in both approach and orchestration. Although Ulysses Kay was born only 18 years after Dawson, his music is clearly more modern in its use of harmony—which is not to say that he is blatantly atonal, but rather that he uses unusual chord positions as the underlying basis of his music. In the opening, it is The Fantasy Variations of 1963, in fact, opens with the Phrygian mode, and later vacillates between the diatonic scale and chromaticism. This unusual harmony is used as a springboard for the underlying rhythmic figures that arise. This is a major release. See my complete review at https://artmusiclounge.wordpress.com/2020/05/25/the-music-of-dawson-and-kay/" Report Abuse
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