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Dr. Brian Hick
Lark Reviews, June 2020

Dawson’s symphony was written in 1931 and first performed under Leopold Stokowski in 1934. It is a richly romantic work which was well received at the time but has since aroused far less interest. Of the two works here it is certainly the more interesting as Kay’s Fantasy sounds pleasant but conventional both in structure and tonal interest. © 2020 Lark Reviews

Alexandre Villemaire
PAN M 360, June 2020

…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.

…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. © 2020 PAN M 360 Read complete review

Tom Huizenga
National Public Radio, June 2020

This new 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 — another African American, slightly younger than Dawson, but more prolific.

Kay’s music, too, deserves to be heard more. His Fantasy Variations, from 1963, is brilliantly orchestrated and deceptive. Instead of starting with the theme and spinning off variations, Kay does the opposite, offering his big reveal at the end. His Umbrian Scene, written under the spell of his days in Italy after winning the prestigious Prix de Rome Prize twice, presents Kay at his tranquil best.

An engaging album like this, with arresting music by two fine American composers, offers some answers. © 2020 National Public Radio Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2020

William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony has had a chequered life, the initial enthusiasm following its 1934 premiere only proving to be very short lived.

The Second World War was at an end, and now fifty-three, he revised the score in 1952, a recording by the Symphony of the Air conducted by Stokowski was released in 1963 to critical acclaim, including my own. The opening movement, ‘The Bond of Africa’, immediately recalls new North American music in the 1930’s—highly imaginative and fertile in melodic material and spiced with quotes from powerful Negro spirituals. The second movement (Hope in the Night) is even more potent as it draws to its climatic conclusion with heavy brass and percussion. The short finale introduces the world of popular and emotive spirituals that will be recognised in North America, but will fall short of interest elsewhere. Ulysses Simpson Kay was born in 1917, eight years after Dawson, they occupied much the same creative space, Kay prolific compared to his musical colleague. His catalogue of works including five operas and music for film and television. The two works on this disc come from 1963, their tonal heritage having a hint of atonality in the Fantasy Variations. Contrasting with Dawson, Kay’s orchestration was quite adventurous for the 1960’s, but though he wanted to paint a scene of Umbria in Italy, it is Germanic in texture and moves close to Berg in its futuristic tendencies. That the ORF Symphony and the American conductor, Arthur Fagen, are dedicated in their promotion of two very different composers is obvious in their performances, and they also enjoy a first class recording in the ORF studio. An important addition to ‘American Classics’. © 2020 David’s Review Corner

Lynn René Bayley
The Art Music Lounge, May 2020

One thing I found very interesting in Kay’s music was that he seemed to borrow nothing from Stravinsky, who was still alive and active at the time, and very little from Schoenberg other than his use of mood in his early orchestral works. Kay was clearly “his own man” in terms of musical construction, and I greatly admire him for that.

This is a major release. © 2020 The Art Music Lounge Read complete review

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