Thursday, July 2, 2020

New York Times: "Giving a Symphony Its Due," William Levi Dawson's "Negro Folk Symphony" "was recently revived in a recording by...Arthur Fagen"

(Credit...via Department of Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst)

July 2, 2020 

Giving a Symphony Its Due


William Levi Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony,” which premiered in 1934 and was revised by the composer in 1952, made the journey from LP to CD to streaming through an early take on that 1952 revision, led by the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski. Another recording, by Neeme Jarvi and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, saw the light of day in the 1990s. But 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 midcentury. 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.

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