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David DIAMOND (b.1915)
Symphony No. 2 (1942) [42:43]
Symphony No. 4 (1945) [16:35]
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz. Rec. 8, 11 Sept 1989 (2); 22 May 1990 (4), Seattle Center Opera House. DDD Originally issued on Delos DE3093 American Classics series
NAXOS 8.559154 [59:19]

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 Seventh.

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 Symphonies.

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.

Rob Barnett

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