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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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David DIAMOND (b.1915)
Psalm (1936) [8:39]
Kaddish (1987) [10:44]
Symphony No. 3 (1945) [31:08]
Janos Starker (cello)
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz.
Rec. 11-12 Sept 1990; 6 Jan 1991, Seattle Center Opera House. DDD
Originally issued on Delos DE3103
American Classics series
NAXOS 8.559155 [59:19]


This is the third Naxos/Diamond/Seattle series CD to come my way. Each time I have counted myself fortunate to be reviewing these discs. Part of the pleasure is renewing acquaintance with Delos recordings first issued in the early 1990s. Bless Naxos and Delos for sorting out a deal for the licensing of this series. It deserves a permanent place in the catalogue. It also deserves to be extended or gap-filled. Before financial imperatives strangled this heroic initiative professionally delivered much had been achieved. Lest we forget - the other two Diamond CDs are 8.559154 (Symphonies 2 and 4) and 8.559156 (Symphony 8, Suite from TOM, This Sacred Ground).

Naxos now remind us of this and deliver to a new generation of music-lovers the potency and gripping music-making to be found in these three works.

Both Kaddish and Psalm, separated by half a century describe a similar arc from contemplation perhaps with a edgily hassidic-rhapsodic accent through violent protest and back to contemplation. Both declare depths and profundities. We cannot bracket either of these works with Schuman’s American Festival or Bernstein’s Candide or Copland’s Outdoor Overture or Piston’s Toccata. Both pieces are better understood as companions to Schuman’s Credendum or In Praise of Shahn. Kaddish is a powerful prayer - the ancient Hebrew prayer for the dead. It was written for Yo Yo Ma and premiered by him with this orchestra and conductor on 9 April 1989. I wonder how often he has played it since. In any event Starker plays this masterfully subdued work with integrity and unwavering concentration. As for Psalm, this was written in Paris and was dedicated to André Gide after it had been completed. It was premiered on 10 December 1936 (the booklet says 1937 but my encyclopaedia claims 1936) by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Howard Hanson as part of the Festival of American Music.

The Third Symphony was written in the same year as his chef d’oeuvre, the Fourth Symphony. It is in four movements starting with an overwhelmingly propulsive and archetypically American Allegro deciso (very deciso). It is exciting and compulsive - a little like a vicious Schuman allegro but with infusions of something more yielding - say Vaughan Williams. In fact the contemplative andante recalls RVW’s Fifth Symphony in its placid yet not blandly reflective course. Diamond does not have quite the lyric impulse of say Piston in the 1930s and early 1940s but he is no slouch either when it comes to piacevole writing. The third movement contains some pre-echoes of the Fourth Symphony. Its Adagio assai finale again proclaims a composer rejecting showmanship and embracing a sincere message in tones we can relate to Copland’s Tender Land and even to Gerald Finzi’s pastoral poignancy. It has a sustained elegiac strain that may well reflect the bereavement and need for consolation of a nation still mourning its wartime losses.

Gerard Schwarz now conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, just down the road from where I live. Would that he could be tempted to include the Diamond Third Symphony in one of his concerts. With the exception of some Panufnik (Sinfonia Sacra and Heroic Overture) the Schwarz/RLPO have been paying safe in repertoire terms. A pity.

To return to this disc: This is the Third Symphony’s only recording. The work was premiered, five years after it had been written, on 3 November 1950, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch. It is not completely new to me. For some years I knew it from a radio tape of a broadcast by the Juilliard Theatre Orchestra conducted by Julius Morel. This stunning recording by the Delos/Seattle team replaces that tape. It is not just the recording quality but the authentic, irrepressible spirit and sincerity that radiates from Schwarz’s labours that convince. What we have here is not a mere catalogue gap-filler but a fine and well-wrought performance.

A disc not to be missed if you are at all sympathetic to the tonal-melodic strain in twentieth century music. No glitz ... no superficiality ... but music written from the heart to the heart.

Rob Barnett



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