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Symphony No. 3; Psalm, Kaddish

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Symphony No. 3; Psalm, Kaddish Naxos 8.559155

  • Composer: David Diamond
  • Conductor: Gerard Schwarz
  • Seattle Symphony Orchestra
  • Artist: Janos Starker (Cello)

While in no way demeaning the many fine works that have come from Boulez and gifted composers who trod the chaste path of serialism, time has proven them wrong in consigning Diamond and his gloriously unrepentant Romantics to the trash bin of music history. In music, as in life itself, there are many roads to truth, many different drums whose rhythms attract some and repel others. One thing is very clear: many composers and audiences have either re-embraced the Romantic spirit or never left its enveloping warmth in the first place.

David Diamond’s patience and determination have served him well, and it is a blessing that he has survived attack and neglect for many decades. He is now considered, with ample reason, to be a national treasure whose music taps into an American psyche hungering for a musical experience analogous or equivalent to spiritual satisfaction.

Diamond composed his Symphony No. 3 in 1945, though it had to wait another five years for its premiere with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony. Initially, according to the composer, Artur Rodzinski and the Chicago Symphony had promised to perform it, “but things kept coming up, and it was never played.” Several years later, Diamond, who had known Munch since 1936, ran into the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s con­ductor in Paris, showed him the score and explained the difficulties he had faced in trying to get it performed. “But this is ridiculous–we must have it performed. I will do it next season.” Munch lived up to his promise.

Resolute in its tonal vocabulary, the first movement, Allegro deciso, is cast in traditional sonata form with an extensive development section. A flowing Andante follows, offering ample contrast to the vibrancy of the first movement, and enchanting the ear with such arresting sonorities as three unison flutes accompanied by harp and piano. The Scherzo that follows without pause is impelled by a strong rhythmic figure iterated by the snare drum. The work concludes with an essentially lyrical finale that opens and closes with an elegiac section flanking a quicker episode with solos for clarinet and oboe.

Diamond refers to Kaddish as a “ritual” piece. Though the actual Hebrew prayer has traditional melodies associated with it, the composer created his own, based on his knowledge of cantorial singing practices. Diamond had this to say about the composition, which he completed in 1989: “Taking the rhythmic articulation of the opening words [of the Kaddish], "Yisgadal, v’yiskadash, sh’may raboh” (“Magnified and sanctified be His Great Name in the world which He hath created…”), and utilizing several ancient Biblical cantilations of synagogue music, I constructed two contrasting thematic ideas which are employed rhapsodically. The first is expansive, heard at the outset in the orchestra. The solo cello then enters with the second theme, meditative and reflective in spirit. It is the cello that takes the role of the Cantor, really, and the orchestra comments on his role."

In 1936, Diamond visited the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to pay his respects at the graves of Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt, among other artistic notables interred there. The “encounter” inspired him to compose Psalm, which he dedicated to André Gide, whom he met that same year after he had already completed the composition. Diamond and Gide, in fact, played through a four-hand arrangement of Psalm before its orchestral premiere in Rochester at the 1937 Festival of American Music conducted by Howard Hanson. It won the Juilliard Publication Award that year and was taken up by orchestras and conductors throughout the country, including Pierre Monteux, Leopold Stokowski and several other luminaries in the pantheon of renowned directors.

Laid out in “song” form, i.e., A-B-A, Psalm was well received by audiences and critics alike. Alfred Frankenstein, for many years the doyen of San Francisco-based critics, referred to Psalm’s “…fine, granitic seriousness and…spare, telling use of the orchestra.”

Symphony No. 3; Psalm, Kaddish Review

The Third Symphony is a four-movement work of no mean power. This and the Psalm show Diamond as a real man of the orchestra; and the Seattle orchestra proves an eloquent advocate. Kaddish is a more recent piece and is played here by its dedicatee, János Starker. A highly recommendable Naxos reissue. – Penguin Guide

Track Listing:

Disc 1:
  1. Psalm 00:08:37
  2. Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra 00:10:37
  3. Allegro deciso 00:08:50
  4. Andante 00:09:25
  5. Allegro vivo 00:05:57
  6. Adagio assai 00:06:44
Release date NZ
August 1st, 2013
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