Classical CD Reviews

EMMA LOU DIEMER: ”Pacific Ridge” = Santa Barbara Overture; Concerto in One Movement for Marimba; Concerto in One Movement for Piano – London Sym. Orch./Brynmore Llewelyn Jones/Slovak Radio Sym. Orch./Joel Suben /Czech Radio Sym. Orch./Vladimir Válek /Betty Oberacker, p. – Navona Records

Wonderful look at an important American composer.

Published on April 16, 2013

EMMA LOU DIEMER: ”Pacific Ridge” = Santa Barbara Overture; Concerto in One Movement for Marimba; Concerto in One Movement for Piano – London Symphony Orch./Brynmore Llewelyn Jones/Slovak Radio Sym. Orch./Joel Suben /Czech Radio Sym. Orch./Vladimir Válek /Betty Oberacker, p. – Navona Records NV5898, 56:41 (Distr. by Naxos) ***:

Emma Lou Diemer is an American original. She is a graduate of the Eastman School and studied with Howard Hanson, among others. She has a fifty-year-plus reputation as both a composer as well as a superb concert organist. It is important to note that Diemer was also one of America’s first women composers to achieve a national status and it is to her credit that she has shared her skills and love of music with school children for a long time. She even served under a grant as a resident educator-composer in the Arlington VA schools.

This collection features three of her most important fairly recent works and is well worth discovering! The “Santa Barbara” Overture was written for the Santa Barbara Symphony their outstanding conductor, Giselle Ben-Dor, in 1996. Diemer taught at the University of California for many years and remains a professor emeritus there. This is a very entertaining and spritely work that echoes music of the many cultures that flavor southern California; including Mexican, Spanish and Native American. The work even closes with bells played on some tubular bells from the Mission Santa Barbara; a very nice touch. This work has shades of Bernstein running through it – not a bad thing – and is quite exhilarating. This performance is by the London Symphony under the baton of Brynmore Lewelyn-Jones.

The Concerto in One Movement for Marimba is a similarly exciting work, written for the Women’s Philharmonic and JoAnn Falletta. The marimba writing is actually very colorful and gives the instrument a real “voice” all its own. The tone throughout is dramatic and somewhat “dark” in places but this is a very fine work in a limited genre. In this recording, soloist Nathan Daughtry does an excellent job and the Slovak Radio Symphony and Joel Suben offer strong backup. I should think that all keyboard percussion players would want to know this work!

I was also quite impressed with the Concerto in One Movement for Piano. This is a substantial work of nearly thirty minutes and is written as one movement but with three distinct sections. The composer writes a lot of music in single movement form and this piece is characterized by its very spiky, Bartok-like opening and lovely central section that segues into a very rhythmic coda. This particular recording is a re-issue with the same soloist, Betty Oberacker from 1999 and her performance makes a convincing case for this piece being standard contemporary repertoire. The Czech Radio Symphony and conductor Vladimir Válek do a wonderful job as well.

This recording makes for a great introduction to the music of Emma Lou Diemer; already an important composer, but who is not as widely known as she deserves. Contemporary is frequently a world in which a select become truly well known or at least the latest hot topic. Diemer is one of the many, many quality composers who have earned a spot in American music by being consistently good and writing music that cuts across time and styles. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs




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