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Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Meistersinger of Nürnberg; Overture
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Hungarian Dances Nos Book IV 17-21
F sharp minor (orch Dvořák)
D (orch Dvořák)
B minor (orch Dvořák)

E minor (orch Dvořák)
E minor (orch Dvořák)

Josef SUK (1874-1935)

A Fairy Tale Op. 16 No. 2 – The game of the swans and the peacocks
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Les Ruses d’amour Op. 61 – Introduction; Valse
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Symphony No. 5 in E minor Op. 64
Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)

Moto Perpetuo MS72 Op 11
William WALTON (1902-1983)

Scapino Comedy Overture
Ernö DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)

Suite for Orchestra Op. 19
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Also sprach Zarathustra Op. 30
Frederick STOCK (1872-1942)

Symphonic Waltz
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Frederick Stock
Recorded 1925-41
BIDDULPH WHL 021-22 [2 CDs: 158.38]


Stock’s is a name that has always been on the margins of appreciation but this exemplary production should do much to challenge indifference. If you know him primarily, or exclusively, as accompanist to Schnabel in their recordings of the Fourth and Fifth Beethoven Concertos then this double CD set will round out your appreciation decisively. It would be good to hear more of his large-scale symphonic recordings some time – the Schumann Spring Symphony has appeared in recent years in a box devoted to the Chicago Symphony – but he recorded a fair amount of important literature, in addition to the material collated here.

What we do have however is, I think, enough to demonstrate that Stock has been undervalued. He was born in Germany in 1872 and studied violin and composition at the Cologne Conservatoire; one of his teachers was Humperdinck and Mengelberg was a classmate. He joined Theodore Thomas’s fledgling Chicago orchestra, then only a few years old, as a violist but soon advanced to Thomas’s assistant and on the older man’s death in 1905 stood in as conductor – a position he was to hold until his own death in 1942. He didn’t tour much and made essentially a local reputation. In a land then colonized by such heavyweights as Stokowski, Koussevitzky and Toscanini Stock must have seemed solidly Teutonic and just a bit penny plain – much as his own name lacked the glamour of the flamboyant maestri then bestriding the globe.

Appearances as ever can be deceptive. Stock was an astute orchestral builder and a talented musician, flexible and versatile enough to cope with intriguing corners of the repertoire as much as the master works. The Meistersinger Prelude to Act 1 convinces through its unhurried grandeur, Stock demonstrating a kind of portamenti-legato style that comes close to ecstasy, lavishing eloquently judged rubati along the way. The end is held back and not pushed forward, adding to the effectiveness of the reading. Of the Brahms Hungarian Dances in the Dvořák orchestrations No. 20 is especially superb and one should note that these are, apparently, previously unissued 1926 sides, the only such examples here and all the more valuable for it (in excellent sound). The only example of a compromised recording is the December 1925 Goldmark. Wonderful piece and excellently played – but this sounds like one of those provisional, quasi-acoustic set ups in which the Victor engineers stuck to the devil they knew, as it doesn’t sound as if there are many strings and the uniform thin tone and portamenti are here rather a trial. Stock is predictably athletic and full of finesse in these smaller items – particularly good with the winds and spruce rhythm of the Suk – but he is splendid with the Tchaikovsky Symphony. This is a subjectivist approach, in line with prevailing orthodoxies, or some prevailing orthodoxies at any rate. There are a lot of rhetorical pauses and emotive underlinings but the linearity of the music making is not compromised and it emerges as a commanding and sympathetic reading.

The second disc is especially valuable in presenting Walton’s Scapino in its original version. Written as a commission for the Chicago Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary season Stock took it into the recording studio three weeks after premiering it. The Dohnányi is not a work of vast pretensions but the 1928 recording holds up well and allows one to appreciate the conductor’s élan and elegance, most notably in the Romanza where the rhythm is pliant, the control immaculate. Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra tended to be judged against the almost contemporaneous Koussevitzky recording and found wanting but listening to it coolly one can but admire its nobility and grandeur, the degree of structural cohesion and seamlessness that Stock generates from its pages and the clarity and direction of it as a whole.

Stock was a well-rounded musician, stylistically apt and adaptable. Though Mark Obert-Thorn warns us about the recording of the Strauss the sound here, as on all the discs, is bright and natural sounding. Side joins have been expertly managed; surface noise is present of course but with no suppression of higher frequencies; Obert-Thorn has written the notes and I recommend them, as indeed I do this enterprising and convincing selection. More Stock please.

Jonathan Woolf



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