Conductor’s skills and background the right mix

By Peter Jacobi

Proof gathers that the addition a few years ago of Arthur Fagen to the conducting faculty at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music was an astute one. With every outing, he proves that his wide background handling both operatic and symphonic responsibilities was of just the right mix to take care of local needs.

Just this fall, he conducted a meticulous and warm IU Opera Theater production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and now, on Wednesday evening, a beautifully prepared concert in Auer Hall by the Chamber Orchestra. His repertoire: Rossini’s Overture to “La scala di seta” (“The Silken Ladder”), Ottorino Respighi’s “Gli uccelli” (“The Birds”), and Mozart’s Symphony Number 40.

Meticulous and warm held true in Wednesday’s readings. One discerned wit and effervescence, too, as the orchestra skipped and pranced through the melodies and forged the crescendos in the curtain raiser Rossini wrote for his one act comedy about a secret marriage that prompts all sorts of misadventures, including the husband’s use of a silken ladder to reach his wife’s bed chamber.

Maestro Fagen had skillful orchestration at his disposal in the Respighi. Known best for two large-scaled and lush tone poems about the fountains and pines of Rome, in “Gli uccelli,” the composer, in 1928, made use of Italian and French music from the 17th and 18th centuries to fashion a five-movement suite paying homage to birds. A get-things-started Prelude is followed by sound portraits of “La colomba” (“The Dove”), La gallina” (“The Hen”), “L’usignuolo” (“The Nightingale”), and “Il cucu” (“The Cukoo”). A brilliant orchestrator, Respighi sagaciously outlined those winged creatures. Conductor and orchestra filled in the details with a richly colored and robust performance.

The Mozart Symphony Number 40, one of his final three, calls for dramatic tension, elegance, transparency, and an aura of spontaneity. All these, Fagen’s interpretation and facilitation possessed, and in generous measures. Very much present, too, were the hard-to-capture but needed blends of moods dark and light, of the agitated and poignant, of the melancholic and joyous.


© Herald Times 2013


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