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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 7 in E major (1881-3)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Eugen Jochum
Recorded 10-11 May 1939. ADD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC MASTERPIECE CD 94.043 [63’47"]


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The conductor Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) was a renowned interpreter of the Austro-German symphonic repertoire and was especially highly regarded as an exponent of the music of Bruckner. This historic issue is significant on two counts. Firstly, it may well be the earliest recording by Jochum of a Bruckner symphony currently in the catalogue. Secondly, I am not aware that there are too many available recordings of this conductor working with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Unfortunately, however, the performance turns out to be something of a curate’s egg. Its particular distinction lies in an extremely spacious reading of the great Adagio which here plays for a fraction over 23 minutes. Some may well find this too leisurely and I don’t think I’d always want to hear the music conceived so broadly. However, on this occasion I found Jochum’s view convincing. His is a deeply felt interpretation to which the VPO respond nobly.

Sadly, the rest of the symphony does not come off so well. The wondrous theme with which the first movement opens is moulded very carefully (too carefully?) but within a few dozen bars we find Jochum indulging in tempo modifications. Some of these work but others do not. More seriously, I can’t come to terms with some aspects of his pacing. The passage between 5’47" and 6’15" in the first movement is one of several which are surely too fast. On the other hand later in the same movement the extended section between 6’56" and 9’50" is drawn out far too much and the music is in severe danger of becoming becalmed.

I was also disconcerted by some of the tempi in the scherzo, especially the somewhat indulgent one adopted for the trio. The radiant finale is generally more sensibly paced but towards the end I found the tempo was pressed too hard, almost to the point of being hectic. As a result almost a sense of grandeur is all but lost.

The recorded sound, from Telefunken originals, requires some tolerance. Quieter passages reproduce satisfactorily but when the volume is raised the sound becomes very congested. The final peroration of the first movement (from 19’12" onwards) sounds harsh and unpleasant, I’m afraid. The scherzo in particular suffers from a very muddy bass and the sound in this movement is booming and of rather poor quality.

The documentation is poor. There are no notes unless you download them from the company’s website (www.haenssler-classic.de) where they are available in an English translation. The notes are of reasonable quality but say nothing about the performance itself. With historic issues I like to have notes that place the performance in the context of the performer’s career. Unfortunately, there’s one glaring editorial howler: on the jewel case the symphony is said to be in "E flat major" (sic).

All in all, I don’t feel I can really give much of a welcome to this issue. I don’t think it does much for Jochum’s deserved reputation as a Bruckner conductor and the recorded sound will also limit its appeal, even at super-budget price.
John Quinn



See also review by Colin Clarke



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