DIAMOND:  Psalm (1936).  Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra (1987).  Symphony No. 3 (1945).
Janos Starker, celllist; Seattle Symphony Orch/Gerard Schwarz, cond.
NAXOS 8.559155 (B) (DDD) TT:  50:29

The orchestra’s website, www.SeattleSymphony.org, reports that Naxos is releasing 10 discs of American music this year that originally appeared on Delos, before the divorce that ended an association of some 15 years. The first of these “newly remastered and repackaged” issues contains(in playing time) two-thirds of Delos DE 3103: we still hear the rumbustious early Psalm that David Diamond wrote in 1936; the Third Symphony of 1945 that waited five years for a first performance (in Boston, conducted by Charles Munch); and Kaddish of 1987 for cello and orchestra, written forYo-Yo Ma at conductor Gerard Schwarz’s suggestion but which János Starker recorded on January 6, 1991. The sum, though, is only 50:27 minutes. What’s missing is the 1951, five-movement suite for Romeo and Juliet on Broadway starring Olivia de Havilland.

If you have DE-3103, there’s no urgent reason to replace it; John Eargle was the recording engineer back in in 1990-91, and then as now one of the America’s sonic masters. His associate Albert G. Swanson is listed as “remastering engineer” under the production aegis of Laurence E. Tucker, the orchestra’s Director of Artistic Planning. The sound is a tad brighter, the volume level a tad higher, and the timpani explosively more so in the Symphony: clarity has been achieved at the expense of deep bass and those delicate sonic textures Eargle captured in the Andante of Symphony No. 3, the loveliest music on this disc. No. 3 is a four-movement work – fast, slow, fast, slow – with a declamatory opening, then the Andante, a prankish scherzo (Allegro vivo, which belies the canard of Diamond’s being a sober-sides), and an Adagio assai conclusion that recalls the first movement’s rhetoric before a quiet ending.

Diamond called Kaddish “a ritual” and (in the Delos program book) characterized Starker’s playing as “mellow, deeply moving in its expressivity, completely relaxed.” Hear, hear! I find it, however, a prolix short work (10:37), despite that finely attuned performance, orchestrally as well as soloisticly. The Psalm reflects Diamond’s first trip to Paris as precocity of 20, and meetings with Albert Roussel, Ravel, and André Gide, to whom he dedicated it. It is the most “modern-sounding” work of these three, dissonant diatonic with “dissonant” underlined, arguably overscored, but a resounding noise from a youthful composer feeling his oats.

Not since Charles Munch has anyone done more for Diamond’s music than Gerard Schwarz, on discs as well as in the concert hall. But how much more Naxos will give us is moot. Sadly, the Delos years did not include Symphonies No. 1, 5-7, 9, 10 or 12, and only the long Adagio from No. 11. Perhaps Naxos has subtracted the R & J suite for a later coupling. The SeaSym website also lists a disc of Hovhaness’ music, and one of Piston’s works that juxtaposes Symphony No. 4, String Quartet Concerto, and Fantasy for English Horn, Harp and Strings (but surely more, although no more is listed).

Bravo, Naxos, with even niggling demurrers.

R.D. (June 2003)