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Milken Archives - David Stock: A Little Miracle

Release Date: 05/16/2006 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559422   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  David Stock
Performer:  Elizabeth ShammashStephen BurnsRichard Stoltzman
Conductor:  Gerard SchwarzDavid Stock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony OrchestraSeattle Symphony OrchestraPittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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D. STOCK A Little Miracle. 1 Yizkor. 2 Tekiah. 3 Y?rusha 4 ? Gerard Schwarz, cond; 1,2 Elizabeth Shammash (mez); 1 Berlin RSO; 1 Seattle SO; 2 David Stock, cond; 3,4 Stephen Burns (tpt); 3 Richard Stoltzman (cl); 4 Pittsburgh New Music Ens 3,4 ? NAXOS 8.559422 (76:23)

The end is nigh. Volume 44 (of 50) in the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music series devotes an entire disc to four works by Pittsburgh-born (1939) David Stock. He studied composition with Nikolai Lopatnikoff and Alexei Haieff at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (renamed Carnegie Mellon University), and at Brandeis with Arthur Berger. According to the booklet note, Stock?s output is nothing if not diverse, including symphonies, quartets, film and broadcast scores, and multimedia compositions. That this is my first exposure to Stock is but further evidence of the gap in my knowledge of much that is happening on the contemporary music scene, for apparently his works have been, and are, widely performed by leading orchestras, soloists, and conductors. Stock has taught on the faculties of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory, among others, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and several grants from the NEA.

The main event here is A Little Miracle (1997), a 30-minute ?operatic monodrama? for mezzo-soprano and orchestra that tells the story of a family forced into a Polish ghetto during the Holocaust. Tova, the wife of Yaakov, gives birth to a daughter, Rosa. Tova knows that remaining in the ghetto means certain deportation to the death camps, but Yaakov and Tova?s mother, Berta, refuse to leave. Too bad, for they are soon shot. Tova, however, desperate to save the newborn Rosa, escapes with the infant to a nearby farmhouse, where she is hidden by local partisans or members of the Polish underground resistance. The ?miracle? referred to in the title has to do with a lullaby Tova recalls her mother singing to her as a child, and that she now sings to Rosa. Through the power of music, Tova finds the strength to persevere, and ultimately she and Rosa are saved.

A number of literary themes are touched upon here: the flight from danger by mother and child, their safe harboring by a family of ?righteous Gentiles? (shades of Anne Frank, though that story ends in tragedy), and the magic of music to overcome adversity. So too, the musical styles that Stock calls upon to set this monologue are many and mixed: Poulenc in La voix humaine , Schoenberg in A Survivor from Warsaw , and Menotti in Amahl and the Night Visitors . Such a combination may be hard to reconcile, but to be fair, we do not hear all of these influences at once. Rather, they are sequential, as the piece rapidly shifts from one mood to another. Passages of soaring lyricism?a gorgeous aria beginning at 4:00?give sudden way to passages of coruscating cacophony and screeching recitative of indefinite pitch. Admittedly, much of the piece is not easy on the ears, though I doubt it is meant to be. It definitely keeps you on edge, and that may be largely what accounts for its effectiveness. Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Shammash has an unrelentingly and horrifically difficult part, which she carries off brilliantly; she can screech with the best of them.

If there were nothing else on this disc but Stock?s 10-minute Yizkor (1999), I would still urge you to buy it. Words cannot describe this sublime orchestral lament. Hearing it before I read the booklet note, I was reminded of pieces like Elgar?s Sospiri and Barber?s Adagio for Strings . Then I read the note, and discovered that, like the Barber, which is also an adaptation of a string quartet movement, Stock?s Yizkor is an orchestral arrangement of his Fourth String Quartet. Though Stock?s piece bears a certain outward resemblance to the Barber?a sweeping arc that begins quietly, rises to a shattering climax, and then sinks back into the sorrowful depths from which it sprang?its harmonic language is very different. If Barber can be said to paint his pathos with a light patina of dissonance and modal progressions that overlay a base of more familiar Romantic formulas (a kind of outside view looking in), Stock achieves his results in the opposite way (a kind of inside view looking out). More familiar Romantic gestures take shape from a seemingly unsettled, formless, dissonant soup?like Creation emerging from Chaos. This is a truly beautiful piece that must be heard.

Entertaining, if less enamoring, are Tekiah (1987) and Y?rusha (1986). The former?aptly described in the booklet note as a ?mercurial frolic through the minefields of virtuoso display??is a piece for solo trumpet and instrumental ensemble. Stock is himself a student and accomplished player of the instrument. Tekiah refers to the sounding of the shofar (the ram?s horn) during the High Holiday season. Stock pushes the envelope of trumpet technique to its limits; and adept a player as Stephen Burns is, his abilities are obviously pressed to the breaking point, resulting in some not very pretty sounds emitting from his trumpet. The loony-tune character of the piece reaches its apex in the final section, ?With energy, relentlessly,? with a fragmentary quotation from Hummel?s trumpet concerto.

What Tekiah is to the trumpet, Y?rusha (?Heritage?) is to the clarinet, a piece the booklet note amusingly refers to as ?a divertissement of unrelated tune shards.? Quoted are a number of well-known Jewish popular songs, vaudeville music, and liturgical references, including The Greenhorn Cousin , Mazel Tov , and Avinu Malkeinu . Not noted, but also present, is a recurring reference to what sounds like When the Saints Go Marching In , ?klezmerized.? All of this goes in one end of Stock?s musical meat grinder and comes out the other, pupiklech (a dish of chicken gizzards). Richard Stoltzman, indisputably one of the finest clarinetists around, seems to relish the piece, and plays it with both guts and gusto.

Of the many Milken Archive CDs that have come my way, this is not one of my favorites. A Little Miracle has its moments of appeal, but they are too few and far between for me to wish to return to it often or anytime soon. Tekiah and Y?rusha are probably meant to be musically humorous, but I find neither of them particularly funny. Yizkor , however, I believe to be a very special piece of music for which, alone, the release is recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

A Little Miracle by David Stock
Performer:  Elizabeth Shammash (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; USA 
Length: 30 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany (04/2000); Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany (10/2001) 
Yizkor by David Stock
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1999 
Venue:  Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington 
Length: 10 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Tekiah by David Stock
Performer:  Stephen Burns (Trumpet)
Conductor:  David Stock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987; USA 
Date of Recording: 02/27/1992 
Venue:  Levy Hall, Rodef Shalom, Pittsburgh, PA 
Length: 19 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Yerusha by David Stock
Performer:  Richard Stoltzman (Clarinet)
Conductor:  David Stock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; USA 
Date of Recording: 08/10/1992 
Venue:  Levy Hall, Rodef Shalom, Pittsburgh, PA 
Length: 16 Minutes 28 Secs. 

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