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 Pullitzer
Award. Recordings of his works have appeared on CRI and New World
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 not 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 rhyhtmic 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 this side of the
Atlantic. 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.
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
really quite large and here we find a composer who really is deserving
of our attention (for more information, including works list and
discography, see www.peermusic.com/classical/Diamond.htm).
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.