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David DIAMOND (b. 1915)
Symphony No.1 (1941)
Violin Concerto No.2 (1947)
The Enormous Room (1948)
Ilkka Talvi (violin);
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
Recorded : Seattle Center Opera House, Seattle, June 1992 (Symphony No.1), September 1991 (Violin Concerto No.2) and October 1992 (The Enormous Room)
NAXOS 8.559157 [71:01]


Before completing his first acknowledged symphony in 1941, Diamond had already composed two earlier symphonies, long since discarded. Thus, his first mature symphony was completed after the composer had to leave France after spending two years with Nadia Boulanger (who else?). This is a fairly typical American symphony. The first movement bustles with a highly communicative, forward-driving energy effortlessly sustained throughout. It nevertheless ends on a quiet note (a softly reverberating bell) preparing the way for the meditative, warmly lyrical second movement, one of this composer’s finest inventions. The finale opens with a solemn brass motif, aptly described by Steven Lowe as a kind of Alleluia. This is briefly developed before the forceful entry of the vigorously energetic concluding Allegro. Diamond’s First Symphony, which was new to me, could – and, indeed, should – be as popular as Harris’ celebrated Third Symphony, with which it compares most favourably. Good to have this magnificent work and superb reading back in the catalogue.

The fate of the Second Violin Concerto, composed for Dorotha Powers who gave the first (and apparently last) performance in Vancouver, is by no means a rare thing. Actually, difficulties with the Percival Estate prevented any further performances until Schwarz arranged for its US premiere on 6th May 1991. It is a fine work, more overtly Neo-classical than either the First Symphony or the orchestral fantasia The Enormous Room. It actually brings Vaughan Williams’ own violin concerto to mind (particularly so in the beautiful slow movement).

The orchestral fantasia The Enormous Room is partly inspired by E.E. Cummings’ eponymous book relating some of his World War I experiences in France, particularly when he was incarcerated, his loyalty having been questioned when serving as an ambulance driver. As Diamond also mentions, the book is also about the human spirit, about the individual and his private garden of Love. Diamond’s music makes it a dignified and restrained elegy for all those who suffer from the ruthless absurdities of war. This poignant piece of music, in spite of its rather diminutive sub-title, is a deeply moving masterpiece, which – alone – would make this most welcome release indispensable.

Schwarz and his Seattle orchestra have served Diamond’s music well with a number of discs entirely devoted to his music. I hope that NAXOS will soon re-release the other Diamond discs in Delos’s back catalogue, especially DE 3103 (including the beautiful Kaddish for cello and orchestra and the Third Symphony), DE 3141 (including the Eighth Symphony) and DE 3093 (Symphonies No.2 and No.4, a .o.), for Diamond’s music unquestionably deserves consideration. Recommended.

Hubert Culot

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