Diamond AHAVA (Brotherhood)
It’s a scandal that David Diamond’s music continues to be so neglected in the country of his birth. Let’s hope that his 90th birthday next July provides the catalyst for more performances and recordings. Meanwhile, here is AHAVA (Brotherhood), his 1954 work commemorating the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jews in America.
Diamond drew his texts for the five sections from biblical prophets and Spanish-Hebrew medievalists to George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The opening Prologue begins with a violent upheaval, Theodore Bikel intoning ‘How long will the scales of justice remain unbalanced?’ in a firm resonant baritone. Part 1 depicts the immigrants’ ideals and hopes for religious tolerance in the new land, offering some lyrical passages with Diamond’s brand of stoic, bittersweet expression. At nearly 12 minutes, Part 2 is the longest movement, telling of the Jews’ trials and setback; stormy, brass-led climaxes alternate with Copland-like plaintive wind writing. An Epilogue proposes a note of hopeful if uneasy peace.
As Neil Levin’s excellent notes candidly state, AHAVA, shaky on historical fact, is a work of its time. Even those sympathetic to the sentiments will wince at the length and unapologetic panegyric of much of the texts. Gerard Schwarz, our most dedicated Diamond champion, draws fiery and hugely committed playing from the Seattle Symphony, though the shaky wind tuning at the coda should have been redone.
Four other works here show what inspired, often glorious, music has resulted from David J Putterman’s commissions for the New York Park Avenue Synagogue of which he is cantor. In the Sabbath Eve selections from Diamond’s Miznor L’David the cantor Charles Osborne is stretched at the top but has the right febrile timbre. He is ardent and impassioned in Diamond’s setting of Psalm 29 and the glowing consolatory choral singing of Psalm 93 is quite moving. Morton Gould’s brief Hamma’ariv Aravim is no great shakes, let down by Richard Troxell’s grainy tenor.
The surprises of the disc are the offerings by Roy Harris and Douglas Moore. The challenge of writing music for a tradition alien to the Midwestern Harris sparked a genuine artistic response and Mi Khamokha manages to successfully wed tradition with the composer’s own quirky voice, in its freeform accents and imaginatively varied repetition. Moore’s brief contribution shows the operatic influence one would expect of the composer of The Ballad of Baby Doe in its soaring lines, undermined by less than secure soloists. The performances by a far-flung variety of ensembles are otherwise solid and often exceptional; the best of these sacred works demand to be revived and heard outside of their non-religious settings.