Stock: American Accents, Etc / Schwarz, Stock, Gulkis, Et Al
Stock’s Second Symphony of 1996 introduces a relentlessly insistent pulse that grabs and holds the listener’s attention immediately. Then a striking germinal idea begins to be heard repeatedly over this foreboding beat—the movement’s opening is aptly called “Inexorable”—but instead of generating the expected minimalist ennui, this simple theme gradually metamorphoses and expands into a full panoply of orchestral fireworks, which is marked “Light, Dancing.” After a fleet but muscular scherzo (“Like the Wind”), the finale (“Ominous”) returns to the initial material but this time in a somewhat brighter and more optimistic key, though the overall work’s deeply pondered seriousness of utterance is never dissipated, making this half-hour work one of the most formally idiosyncratic, sonically intelligible and emotionally engaging American symphonies of the 1990s. This is so because Stock has taken the minimalist esthetic and transformed it by using it for much higher and more complicated ends.
The Viola Concerto of the following year opens in a similar vein with a repeated darkly lyrical fragment full of suppressed dramatic potential. But after a brief cadenza the work relaxes somewhat, subsiding into a nostalgic but forceful “Slow Waltz,” followed by a “Flowing” finale which comes to a comparatively subdued close, marking this work as a less anxiety-ridden and more withdrawn statement than the symphony. Nevertheless, Stock’s characteristic predilection for the striking idea and its clear and compelling development is always in evidence.
The program closes with an earlier overture or prelude-like shorter piece—American Accents of 1984. This effervescent work, with its displaced syncopations and antiphonal textures, is reminiscent of the sound world of one of our country’s most unjustly forgotten composers, Roger Goeb (1916–1990s). Stock’s affinity for the American vernacular is implicit throughout this very ingratiating eight and one-half minute piece.
The composer himself conducts performances of the Viola Concerto and American Accents, which, with such a well-tuned instrument as the Seattle Symphony at his disposal, are on the same high idiomatic and energetic level as Schwarz’s dynamite reading of the Symphony No. 2. Violist Assadi, the dedicatee of the concerto, offers a thrilling rendition of its many challenging passages. The disc (which was made under the auspices of the American Composers Forum’s Recording Assistance Program) has a wonderfully full-bodied acoustic that matches previous releases from this source.
A related earlier Innova release (563) offers three of Stock’s string quartets. The opening Third of 1996 is written in a similar style to the Second Symphony, constructed of highly charged force-fields consisting of obstinately repeated figures that build up to some really exciting climaxes. Its movement headings—“Obsessive,” “Manic,” and “Intense”— tell the tale. The earlier Second Quartet of 1981 shows Stock still under the obfuscating influence of Ives with some slight 12-tone echoes, while the most recent Fourth is a curious two-movement work, ending in a “Slow, Hypnotic” lament.
No one interested in American music of the post-serial period should pass up either of these releases. Stock, whose new Violin Concerto was premiered in Pittsburgh to great acclaim a few years ago, has now all at once become one of our most distinguished and fascinating mature composers.
Paul A. Snook, FANFARE
Catalog Number: INN586
Composer: David Stock
Conductor: David Stock, Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble: Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Performer: Susan Gulkis