These works were originally coupled on a more
generously timed though full price Delos disc. Delos had added
the Concerto for Small Orchestra. These two war-time Symphonies
make for contrasting and stimulating listening.
The Fourth Symphony was the piece that converted
me to Diamond. During the late 1970s BBC Radio 3 ran a series
featuring the American Symphony. They used rare US import LPs
and through these broadcasts I came to know Piston’s Sixth,
Randall Thompson’s Second and many others. In the case of
Diamond’s Fourth Symphony captivation was immediate. That
diaphanous cloud of lyrical ‘dust’ that floats the
first movement Allegretto retains the enduring power to enchant.
On Naxos Schwarz shapes the long song-like theme like a master.
It is only hearing it again now that I notice how very much like
Rubbra this is. It is Rubbra in collana musicale mood mixed with
a lightness of touch that has served its apprenticeship with Ravel.
Leonard Bernstein and the NYPO recorded the Fourth
Symphony at St. Georges Hotel, Brooklyn, New York on 13 January
1958. That recording (the one used by the BBC) is still available
with Randall Thompson’s Second and Roy Harris’s Third
on Sony SMK 60594. The Bernstein is balanced to produce a sound
picture of surgingly crowded immediacy. When those horns and trumpets
yawp their tawny presence springs forward with that much more
assertiveness than on the Naxos. Intriguingly Bernstein in 1958
takes things slower than Schwarz in 1990. Bernstein: 5.52; 6.20;
6.40; Schwarz: 5.08; 5.28; 5.59. On the other hand the Naxos has
a more believable perspective to the sound although the contrivance
of the NYPO balance does produce a gorgeous experience. The offbeat
slam-dunks of the crashing brass and timps in the last few minutes
is done with wonderful spirit, stamina and definition by Schwarz.
The sedate Finzian glow of the string writing in the middle movement
also works very well.
The Second Symphony was premiered by Koussevitsky in Boston on
22 October 1944. That concert was broadcast and recorded on the
early disc recorders of the time. I have heard that scorching
version but how primitive and tremulous the sound is! The Second
Symphony received its UK premiere on 21 December 1990 at the Royal
Northern College of Music in Manchester. Schwarz conducted the
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. It was through the Delos CD and that
broadcast that I discovered this big scalding work, typical of
its times. Its brethren, alike yet unalike, include the Harris
Sixth, Arthur Benjamin’s Symphony and Shostakovich’s
Schwarz is impassioned and desperate as well
as touchingly humane. Those strings really sing in the first movement.
The resonance with the largo of Shostakovich’s Sixth is
clear. The horns peal out in a strange amalgam of pain and exaltation;
Howells does something similar in Missa Sabrinensis and in Hymnus
Paradisi. The drums are captured with vital impact tr. 1, 7.02.
The other work with which this echoes is Copland’s Third
Symphony in all its stirring grandeur and, yes, even its braggartry.
The allegro vivo moves along at a smartish exuberant clip with
vituperatively spitting impacts from percussion and brass. The
andante expressivo develops the severe momentum of a Rubbra symphony
with the violins carrying an eloquent burden. It is topped off
by a brass-crowned climax at 10.02 and a ‘Quiet City’
style lament by the solo trumpet at 10.30. The finale is full
of industrious sparky energy and is played at dangerously breathless
speeds - Golovanov would surely have smiled from on high. Roy
Harris must also have influenced this writing; the stomping cross-rhythmic
activity and free-fluttering brass recall the Third and Sixth
There we have it. Two wartime symphonies by a
composer whose language makes links with Rubbra, Finzi, Ravel,
Copland and Roy Harris. Believable recordings of well-conceived
and executed performances. The insidiously emotional Fourth can
easily bring a lump to your throat.