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Ernst BACON (1898-1990)
Violin Sonata (1983) [24’50].
David DIAMOND (b. 1915)

Chaconne for Violin and Piano (1948) [15’49].
James Greening-Valenzuela (violin); John Walker (piano).
CON BRIO RECORDINGS CBR234 [39’49]
Both works on this short CD are written in an immediately approachable idiom that is most appealing. Both, also, are carefully and successfully crafted in their own ways.

Chicago-born Ernst Bacon was of Austro-American parentage. He was a pupil of Bloch in composition and Goossens in conducting; his Symphony in D minor of 1932 won a Pulitzer Award. Recordings of his works have appeared on CRI and New World Records.

Although perhaps best known for his songs, this Violin Sonata is a thoroughly confident affair, given here in a most committed performance by Greening-Valenzuela and Walker. The violinist has an expressive, but mot distracting, vibrato and a strong sense of line that suits this music perfectly. In addition, Greening-Valenzuela’s sweet top register is well-captured in the first movement. The Allegretto is probably the most successful part of the Sonata. Playful and with a vital rhythmic interplay between the two instruments, it is immediately appealing and does not outstay its welcome (6’29).

Copland’s influence is audible in the Lento in the delicate and sparse writing (Greening-Valenzuela uses a ‘grainy’ tone effectively at times here). However, the overall impression is of a distinctive, if conservative, voice. Interested readers may wish to follow a link to www.ernstbacon.org for further details about this composer.

The name of Rochester-born David Diamond is better known, although perhaps admittedly not by much outside the USA. The championship of Leonard Bernstein can’t have done any harm to his cause, State-side, though. Diamond spent some time in Paris, where he established links with the likes of Milhaud, Roussel and even his hero, Ravel. As a student of Sessions and Boulanger, it is hardly surprising that his works are beautifully and confidently assembled. For more information on Diamond, including work-list and discography: www.peermusic.com/classical/Diamond.htm).

The Chaconne is quite a remarkable work and, whatever the appeal of the Bacon, it is the Diamond that provides this disc’s true musical worth. Diamond’s output was quite large and here we find a composer who really is deserving of our attention. The harmonic language used is immediately identifiable as ‘American’ (try the lyrical Introduction, for example). The Chaconne, despite the many moods necessitated by the variation form, is all of a piece. It falls neatly into six main sections, preceded by an Introduction and followed by a Cadenza and a (very exciting) Coda, and tracked accordingly here. Greening-Valenzuela suavely characterises the various variations.

A pity the recording is not more flattering to the piano, for John Walker is evidently an experienced and more than just attentive accompanist. But the piano sound can lack depth; this CD is a transfer of a 1987 LP (the original session tapes have been lost), which may help to explain this. Someone was a bit over-happy with the reverb button on occasion, too.

Nevertheless (and despite the short playing time) this remains a fascinating disc, especially for the Diamond.

Colin Clarke



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