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.
See also review
by Colin Clarke