This CD is a reissue of one of the Diamond/Schwarz/Seattle series on Delos that electrified us in the early 1990s, introducing many of us to the breadth of orchestral music from this Romantic American master from the mid-20th century. And it contains one truly wonderful piece ('The Enormous Room'), one brashly charming near-miss (the First Symphony), and one nonentity (the Second Violin Concerto).
The Second Violin Concerto is a pale and disappointing ramble for non-virtuosic violinist with rather more interesting writing for the orchestra. There is some rhythmic interest, as always in Diamond, and the finale, a rondo, does manage to get off the ground, but it is no surprise that this concerto had only one performance prior to its being recorded here in 1991. The performance recorded here is fine.
The First Symphony, composed not long after Diamond had returned to America from his studies with the fabled Nadia Boulanger, is full of youthful brio. There are brassy fanfares, bell sounds, catchy percussion effects and clever neoclassic counterpoint clothed in Romantic harmonies. What there isn't is much melodic interest. The orchestration, a craft that Diamond later mastered, is occasionally noticeably clunky. Still, this is a boisterous (and, in spots, lyrical) engaging piece and, taken in context, certainly points to the emerging mastery that is evident in, say, the third and fourth symphonies. [The Seattle recording of the Third has been reissued on budget label Naxos; the Fourth has not, as far as I know. And there is a justly famous version of the Fourth, coupled with Harris's Third and Randall Thompson's Second--all of them masterpieces--conducted by Leonard Bernstein still available here at Amazon.]
'The Enormous Room', written in 1948 (and the latest piece recorded here), evokes E. E. Cummings' book of that name. In it Cummings recounts his internment, along with 60 others, in 'the enormous room,' a French detention facility during World War I. The piece is a 15-minute 'fantasia for orchestra' inspired by Cummings' words, 'The Enormous Room is filled with a new and beautiful darkness, the darkness of snow outside, falling and falling and falling with the silent and actual gesture which has touched the soundless country of my mind as a child touches a toy it loves.' A musing, slow, softly lyrical beginning built on two haunting themes and rarely rising above mezzo forte, gradually builds to a climactic ending. Schwarz and his Diamond-savvy orchestra play with suppressed intensity until the music bursts its bonds in the final climax. The piece and the performance are a triumph.