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David DIAMOND (b.1915)
Psalma (1936) [8’39]. Kaddishb (1987) [10’44]. Symphony No. 3a (1945) [31’08].
bJanos Starker (cello); Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
Rec. a11-12 Sept 1990; b6 Jan 1991, Seattle Center Opera House
From Delos DE3103
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559155 [50’33]


Fresh, devoted performances of music fully worthy of continued attention would be a fair reaction to this disc.

The Seattle Symphony play David Diamond’s music as if it is in their very bones, Schwarz conducts as if his life depends on it, the recording is superb (fairly bright and up-front, as befits much of this music) and the music itself fully repays repeated listening.

Psalm is easily the earliest work on the disc, dating from 1936. Calm and devotional, it was inspired by a visit to the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (wherein lay Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt). Its premiere was under the baton of Howard Hanson. The opening is almost chant-like, although it soon becomes jollier (around 2’50). The livelier later passages include an actively scalic piano that adds a characteristic slant to proceedings. Psalm only lasts just under nine minutes, yet it inhabits a fair few different worlds in that time. Unsettled undercurrents lend force to the powerful, punchy close.

Yes, it really is the Janos Starker playing the solo part in Kaddish (a traditional Hebrew prayer). Starker is superbly ruminative - one is continually aware of the presence of a master. He is superbly expressive and intense. Diamond lends an affecting simplicity to some of the counterpoint (I think explicitly of the oboe and cello passage around eight minutes). Towards the end, the piece becomes hushed, almost like a held breath. Haunting.

This is the only available recording of the Third Symphony, an unmistakably American work that makes unashamed use of tonal means and references. The rhythmically vital first movement is a shifting, restless nine-minute segment of excitement, superbly rendered by the Seattle players. The brightly edged nature of this music seems entirely apt for a North American orchestra. Accents emerge bright and biting.

The homely, very expressive Andante that follows prompted our own RB to invoke Vaughan Williams as a reference point here, a sentiment I can only echo ( http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/July04/Diamond3.htm). The movement with the highest fun index is the Allegro vivo third, a hoe-down somehow integrated into a symphonic edifice. It is left to an Adagio assai, though, to round off the experience. This is devotional music again (bringing, in effect, the disc full circle), that leaves its impression long after the music has stopped.

For further exploration, Diamond’s Chaconne for Violin and Piano of 1948 is worth seeking out: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/Aug03/Diamond_MotWs.htm.

As to the present release, it is a wonderful way to spend a fiver.

Colin Clarke

see also reviews by Rob Barnett and Michael Cookson


A July Bargain of the Month


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