DIAMOND: Suite from the Ballet TOM. This Sacred Ground. Symphony No. 8.
Erich Parce, baritone; Seattle Symphony Chorale; Seattle Girl's Choir; Northwest Boychoir; Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz, cond.
NAXOS 8.559156 (B) (DDD) TT: 68:54
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This reissue of these three David Diamond works, the same that Delos issued on a long-gone CD in a different sequence, has been rumored to be the last of 10 Schwarz/Seattle discs that Naxos purchased for remastering and recirculation. The conductor’s dedication to the music of Diamond (1915–) has given us Symphonies 1-4, the long Adagio from the Eleventh, and the Eighth from 1960, written in honor of Aaron Copland’s 60th birthday, along with several more collections of Diamond’s music – some with the now-defunct New York Chamber Symphony. As annotator for 12 seasons of Seattle Symphony Masterpiece concerts and the last 10 of the NYCS, I came to know a good deal of the composer’s music, supplemented by correspondence (always on postcards from his home in Rochester, New York) and periodic telephone conversations about various works. He was, along with Roy Harris (17 years Diamond’s senior), one of 20th-century America’s two symphonic “engines that could” – if I may borrow from a favorite childhood bedtime story. I cannot say, however, that I “like” a lot of Diamond’s diatonic dissonant works, always excepting The Enormous Room (on Naxos 8.559157 with the First Symphony and Second Violin Concerto), the suite from his stage music for Romeo and Juliet, and Paul Klee pieces which have tremendous wit and inspired craft.

The symphonies always seemed to me to go on longer than their materials quite warranted, despite the rhythmic energy Diamond invariably summoned, and a loveliness of spirit in the best of his melodic inventions. Here, in addition to No. 8, which Bernstein introduced a year late with the New York Philharmonic, we have a setting of the Gettysburg address for baritone soloist and three choirs (adult, girls’ and boys’) that Joseph Krips commissioned for Buffalo. But he had left for San Francisco (where Ozawa succeeded him) before the piece was finished, and so Lukas Foss led the premiere in 1963. But Krips programmed it in SF, and three decades later Schwarz revived it. The best surpasses the populism of Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait, but This Sacred Ground never achieved comparable popularity. Perhaps now is the time for a revival, not just on Naxos’ CD but in concert halls.

TOM, with a libretto by E.E. Cummings (Diamond insisted that the poet only used all-lower case in his verse signatures) based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, was supposed to be a work that Lincoln Kirstein suggested in 1935 for Ballet Caravan, precursor of the New York City Ballet. But newly emigrated George Balanchine from the Ballets Russes was unaware of the source and indifferent to the idea. Ergo, 23-minutes of TOM ended up two years later as a 12-section concert suite – early and vigorous, prewar-2 Diamond. It may be a pastiche but has enough moments of inspiration to hold attention. Again, as in past Naxos’ re-releases of Delos material, remastering strikes me as gratuitous – brighter than John Eargle’s originals, probably so they’ll sound feistier on desktop computers, but lacking the rounded sonority and depth that were Eargle hallmarks of his long string of recordings in the Seattle Opera House, since abandoned by the orchestra as a concert venue for the reportedly superb new Taper Foundation Auditorium in Benaroya Hall. But Naxos’ reissues do mean that Diamond will not suffer a similar neglect before Gerard Schwarz took up his banner in the early ‘80s, from where Dimitri Mitropoulos and Bernstein had left it.

R.D. (May 2004)