Frederick Stock conducts Chicago Symphony, Vol. 2 – Pristine Audio

by | Mar 26, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Frederick Stock conducts Chicago Symphony, Vol. 2 = Works by Bach, Suk, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Dohnanyi, Glazunov, Wagner, Smetana, Schumann, Strauss – Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Ernest Liegl, flute (Bach)/ Frederick Stock – Pristine Audio PASC 684 (2 CDs: 2:34:06, complete contents listed below) [] *****:

Mark Obert-Thorn extends his restored survey of the recorded legacy of conductor Frederick Stock’s tenure in Chicago, 1905-1942, essentially paying tribute to Stock’s 150th anniversary of his birth in 1872. The present collation embraces recordings made 1925-1929, of which several items had either remained unpublished (Suk) or unavailable for many years. Obert-Thorn, by the way, had prepared several of the items on this program for publication some years ago (c. 1994) on the Biddulph label (021-22), with a fine sonic image, but these remasterings via Pristine’s XR process prove superior to those former transfers..

Stock opens Disc One with his Bach Suite No. 2 in B Minor (17 December 1928), which after a respectful Grave, cuts loose with an Allegro that sets a brisk, even inordinate, speed for the remainder of the composition, quite faster than Mengelberg’s account from Amsterdam from June 1931. That the Chicago players maintain the melodic and rhythmic contours of the various dances at their sometimes frenetic – witness the two   Bourrées and the sheer brevity of the Menuet – pace testifies to a firm discipline. The Sarabande elicits an intimacy more anticipatory of the Baroque revival performances of the 1960s. The use of the bass fiddle to ground the Polonaise makes a starling effect. The final dance, Badinerie, has the principal flute Liegl in deft form.

The two Suk readings of the same work, respectively from 1925 and 1926, come from Obert-Thorn’s meticulous researches, his relating that this Intermezzo from the Fairy-Tale Suite made an initial, though unissued, incarnation on an original 10” metal source, only to be re-recorded in improved resonance and slightly broader tempo on a 12” disc exactly one year and one day later, 22 December 1926. The Dvorak G Minor Slavonic Dance from his first suite (22 December 1926), an energetic Furiant, enjoys the crisp attacks and swift changes of orchestral registers we have long appreciated from the likes of Vaclav Talich and George Szell. 

The Glinka Overture (17 December 1928) plays a brilliant display piece whose muscular acceleration easily compares to the kind of bravura we find in Mravinsky in Russia or Albert Coates from Britain. The Chicago brass has already established its tonal prowess, while the string work rivals the Philadelphia Orchestra’s personnel for uniformity of ensemble. 

The Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony (19-20 December 1927), however, reveals Stock’s Romantic sensibility: viz., his tendency to intrude on the momentum of a movement by willful adjustments of the tempo, in the manner of Willem Mengelberg. Stock inserts a huge caesura in the Allegro con anima first movement, then a molasses slowing down and racecar speeding up of the syncopated wind and string figurations. Even the ensuing waltz suffers tempo deviation within its own contour. The march begins to wind down in its second part of the phrase to a licorice or Turkish taffy-crawl. What emerges serves as testimony to an orchestra’s obedience to a driven concept, no matter the eccentricity, a la Stokowski or Mengelberg. Predictably, the coda explodes with visceral excitement, but it, too, slows to a groan at the fermata. 

This alcuna licenza designation, overtly demanded for the second movement, seems the rubric for Stock’s occasionally wayward concept. Like Mengelberg, however, Stock alters the development section of the finale, a major excision, doubtless a stylistic habit of the period. I find this cut, no less apparent in an otherwise fine reading by Malcolm Sargent, awkward and interruptive of the music’s flow. For me, it ruins Mengelberg’s equally headstrong and otherwise fascinating reading. Stock does preserve the music at the opening of the final peroration, but the need to compress the last movement, given today’s standards, seems unnecessarily willful. Stock’s last movement occasionally proceeds faster than the CSO strings and trumpet can articulate the passagework. Still, for sheer scrappiness and hectic enthusiasm, the performance has its moments.

In his own accompanying notes, Obert-Thorn comments on the “adventurous” programming of the 1909 Suite in F# Minor by Dohnanyi for its debut recording (18-19 December 1928) that opens Disc 2. The composer demonstrates an extraordinary orchestral palette, including the opening set of variations in rich, Brahmsian style, the woodwind colors highly evocative of the Hungarian sensibility. The second movement Scherzo: Allegretto vivace, resonates with a folkish energy akin to Dvorak.  Co-incidentally, the principal cello of the CSO at the time, Alfred Wallenstein, would go on to lead his own interpretation of the work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Romanza exudes an “oriental” woodwind flavor, not so far from Ippolitov-Ivanov, with pert touches from string section members over pizzicatos. The Rondo: Allegro vivace features a bustling array of effects, not the least from the harp, castanets, and bassoon riffs. The main melody, in Brahms harmony, maintains a romantic appeal amidst the flurry of bravura figurations from the brass and battery. The last pages evoke the long ago and far away and a firm coda.

From 19 December 1928 Stock performs the Glazunov Pas d’action from his Ballet Scenes, Op. 52 and the Theodore Thomas arrangement of Wagner’s “Dreams” from the Wesendonck Lieder. The Glazunov is pure sugar, sweetness without depth. The Wagner throbs with the passion that infuses his opera Tristan und Isolde. From 17 December 1929 Stock delivers music by Strauss and Smetana, here in performances that inject the virility we associate with Hamilton Harty and Albert Coates. The “Du und Du” Waltzes from Die Fledermaus project the lush, Austrian sensibility we know from contemporaries Clemens Krauss and Erich Kleiber. Stock’s Smetana captures the somewhat impious frolic of the plot, the murmuring strings rife with gossip. The graduated crescendo and whirlwind drive give us a solid indication what Stock’s Rossini and Beethoven symphonies might have provided. 

Lastly, Obert-Thorn restores, at the correct pitch and speeds, the 1841 Schumann “Spring Symphony” from 17-18 December 1929. The opening movement, Andante un poco maestoso, bears a noble carriage and grand scale, exuberantly rife with Schumann’s idiosyncratic, militant pantheism. The Chicago brass prove fervently resonant, and the music moves with a brio quite anticipatory of what Leonard Bernstein accomplished on disc in New York. The Larghetto lavishes us with cross rhythms and sweet string trills, possibly even a motif for the Brahms F Major Symphony. The D Minor Scherzo enjoys an athletic thrust, and the finale, Allegro energico e grazioso proceeds with a refreshed confidence in the healing powers of love and Nature, sentiments that inevitable lead us to most of Dvorak. The interpretation holds well for all of its age and Romantic ethos, and the entire restoration makes for an essential addition to the Frederick Stock archive.

—Gary Lemco

Frederick Stock conducts Chicago Symphony, Vol. 2 =

J.S. BACH: Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067;
SUK: Intermezzo: Playing at Swans and Peacocks (2 recordings);
DVORAK: Slavonic Dance in G Minor, Op. 46/8;
TCHAIKOVSKY: symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64;
GLINKA: Russlan and Ludmilla – Overture;
DOHNANYI: Suite in F# Minor, Op. 29;
GLAZUNOV: Pas d’action from Op. 52;
WAGNER (arr. Thomas): Träume;
J. STRAUSS II: Du und Du Waltzer;
SMETANA: The Bartered Bride – Overture;
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 38 “Spring” 

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