Diamond: Rounds, Adagio from Symphony No. 11, etc.

Diamond: Rounds, Adagio from Symphony No. 11, etc.

by Gerard Schwarz
     
 
Ives, Copland, and Bernstein. And some, of course, would add Barber. These are, opinion has it, the great American composers. But what about David Diamond? He's written symphonies of individual character and rich profundity, concerti of brilliance and virtuosic appeal, theater music of

Overview

Ives, Copland, and Bernstein. And some, of course, would add Barber. These are, opinion has it, the great American composers. But what about David Diamond? He's written symphonies of individual character and rich profundity, concerti of brilliance and virtuosic appeal, theater music of vivid character and immense charm, and incidental scores of wit and color. So what must one do to enter the elite club? Perhaps Diamond's failing was in not carving out a niche he could claim as his own, not forging a dominant trait with which he could be identified. Ives pioneered a uniquely American style when others looked to European models; Copland cornered the artistic market on the cowboy idiom and music associated with our American heritage (even though Diamond entered this realm first, since the "Suite from Tom" has roots reaching back to 1936, predating "Billy The Kid" by two years); and Bernstein was the ultimate chameleon--Broadway Lenny could abandon the neon lights and write symphonies on Hebrew subjects and masses that stirred controversy. Diamond, on the other hand, was content to simply compose inspired music and not worry that he wasn't blazing trails or wearing someone's idea of the politically correct outfit. His music is with us, though, and like that of Hovhanness and Sessions, and perhaps Mennin, will grow more and more into the artistic consciousness here and abroad. Diamond's style has embraced many musical elements and means of expression, yet always manages to sound like the product of one consistent and inspired mind. His works generally fall into a post-Romantic idiom, with highly innovative use of traditional musical forms. Chromaticism emerged in some of his later works, but most of his compositions are diatonic and the language quite direct. There is a forward-looking character, a sort of busy nonchalance to much of his fast music, and an epic, often profound and heartfelt (but never saccharine) aspect to his slow music. Forget the supposed influence of Bruckner--there's a spiritual but not stylistic relationship here. "Rounds" (1944) is a short, mostly energetic work for strings, which effervesces with such infectious optimism, you're totally enamored of its charm before the manic four-minute-plus first movement is even half-over. The following Adagio is absolutely lovely, and the finale is a vivacious romp that leaves you breathless but exhilarated. If the "Eleventh Symphony"'s Adagio is characteristic of the whole work, then I'd declare the composition a major masterpiece. Written in 1991 for the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic, this music, nestled in that rich post-Romantic vein so uniquely Diamond's own, seethes with tension and overwrought emotion, yet is touching and beautiful in its melodic eloquence and harmonic depth. But, you ask, where's the rest of the symphony? Perhaps Delos will get around to issuing it in a later volume in this series. The "Concert Piece for Orchestra" (1939) sees Diamond venturing onto Copland's turf, the world of snappy rhythms and folksy tunes. But there's no borrowing here, only a creative mix of dance music, tender melody, and colorful orchestration. I can't understand why this delightful piece isn't more popular. "Elegy in Memory of Ravel" was begun in late December of 1937 by the then twenty-two-year-old Diamond upon news of the death of his celebrated friend. It is a piece whose grieving and hushed anger verge on constant eruption, like the dazed mourner at the funeral of a loved one who struggles to maintain his tenuous composure. You can almost tactilely feel Diamond's sorrow here, sense his immense loss. Written for brass, harps, and percussion, there's not a gallic note in this brief piece, despite the composer's study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and his admiration for his deceased friend's music. The "Concert Piece for Flute and Harp" (1989) does have a bit of French air hovering above its notes, however. It's not surprising, though, since the composer reveals Roussel as the work's inspiration. It is a lovely composition of great subtlety and well-crafted instrumentation that, unfortunately, will probably never become popular owing to the uncommon marriage of flute and harp here. The performances by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, under the knowing hand of Gerard Schwartz, are splendid, deftly capturing every facet of Diamond's seemingly boundless muse. The Glorian Duo is in fine form in the chamber work, too. I doubt the composer himself would find anything wanting in these committed, perhaps definitive, accounts. The sound is excellent and the notes are informative.

Product Details

Release Date:
06/18/1996
Label:
Delos Records
UPC:
0013491318929
catalogNumber:
3189

Tracks

  1. Rounds, for string orchestra
  2. Symphony No. 11: Adagio (Third movement)
  3. Concert Piece for orchestra
  4. Elegy in Memory of Maurice Ravel, for brass, strings, & percussion (or strings & percussion)
  5. Concert Piece for Flute and harp

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