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David DIAMOND (1915-2005)
Trio for violin, cello and piano (1951) [25:12]
Quartet for piano and string trio (1936 rev. 1967) [26:37]
Trio in G major for violin, viola and cello (1937) [17:52]
Notre Dame String Trio (Carolyn Plummer (violin); Christine Rutledge (viola); Karen Buranskas (cello))
Ralph Votapek (piano)
rec. 29-30 June 1998, WFMT Studios, Chicago (Piano Trio; Piano Quartet); June 1996, Masonic Temple, South Bend, Indiana (String Trio). DDD
CENTAUR CRC 2437 [69:58]

David Diamond long outlived his contemporaries. He is of that group of American composers who came to eminence in the 1940s. This group includes Harris, Piston, Schuman and Copland with Sessions, Hanson, Creston and Mennin clustered just outside the centre.

Diamond was born in Rochester, New York. He studied with Bernard Rogers (time for a Rogers revival please!), Sessions and Boulanger. He is much associated with the Juilliard School which he joined in 1973. His catalogue runs to eleven symphonies, eleven string quartets, three violin concertos and more than one hundred songs. His Fourth Symphony must have one of the most sheerly beautiful shimmeringly mobile first five minutes of any 20th century symphony; though Rorem runs him close. I owe it to a BBC Radio 3 series in 1980 that I heard the Bernstein/NYPO recording of Diamond 4 in all its glistening impressionistic glory; you can hear it on a Sony/CBS CD still in the catalogue. It comes as no surprise that Diamond also wrote a Ravel Elegy.

Diamond had a selection of his symphonies recorded by the Seattle Orchestra and Gerard Schwarz in the 1990s on Delos. Naxos have reissued these and will perhaps fill the gaps. Outside the adopted Naxos series there has been plenty of other activity including the recent set of songs on Albany - review, the momentous Albany and Steve Honigberg-Potomac series of Diamond's string quartets and a Diamond volume in the Naxos Milken list.

There's a real danger that you might overlook this 1999 Diamond chamber music contribution from Centaur.

The 1951 Piano Trio was written in his home town of Rochester. It is in four movements and was premiered in San Francisco by the Alma Trio in 1953. It is an awkward, angry and at times dissonant work in the manner of late Bartók. This is relieved by lyrical sustenance from the string instruments. The emotionally icy Bergian expanses of the adagio give way to the cold playfulness of the Scherzo. In the finale we return to the brutality and exhaustion of the first with cold Scarlatti-style dancing material for the piano.

The Piano Quartet dates from the years when Diamond was studying in France with Boulanger. Written in Fontainebleau it was premiered by the Belgian Piano Quartet. The composer made revisions to it in 1967. It is in six movements. After a pondering Intrada comes an exhilarating fury of an allegro brioso and the first of two Ritornellos. Here inventive use is made of the stereo spread to divide violin and viola. A wild mezzo-forte dance comes next with smiling sparks flying in all directions. The second Ritornello is gangly and angular in the piano part with contrasting meditative material for the strings. This rises towards a paean of the type Panufnik achieves in his string writing. The finale is just as engaging as that confiding allegro brioso with a peg-legged dash to the proceedings and a deeply earnest climax nicely accentuated by the piano's valedictory curse.

The String Trio is dedicated to members of the Coolidge Quartet and was first performed in Washington DC by the dedicatees in 1938. It was not until 1996 that it had a New York premiere at the hands of the Notre Dame Trio. The work is in three movements. The outer ones have the smiling carefree delight in speed that we know from Tippett's string writing at exactly the same time. Spun in among this rich material we catch glimpses of similar writing in Bartók and Moeran where the wind stirs the dust just as much as the stamping of dancing feet. The tripartite middle movement is so inward that it might almost be devotional.

The liner-notes give us the essentials. The performances seem ideal. The recording quality is close-up and vivaciously realistic.

Rob Barnett


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