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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E (1883)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Eugen Jochum.
Rec. May 10th-11th, 1939 ADD

This performance of Bruckner’s mighty Seventh originates from the SWR archives. Hänssler claim this is the first time it has been available (presumably they mean on CD, as they give the original Telefunken 78 numbers, SK3000/7 on the inside front cover!), and so this is clearly a valuable historical document.

Eugen Jochum’s Bruckner interpretations have caused some controversy, frequently being contrasted with Furtwängler’s more architectural approach. A stop-start account can fall flat on its face, but luckily there are enough redeeming qualities here to make this Seventh a fascinating experience. There are famous studio accounts from Dresden and Berlin by Jochum (EMI and DG respectively). Here Hänssler provide what is effectively a supplement to these, an early 1939 performance with the Vienna Philharmonic (it also complements Mravinsky’s 1967 Leningrad performance recently reviewed on this site:

The transfer is in general acceptable, the only major stumbling block being a tendency to crowd at climaxes. In addition, the third movement Scherzo suffers from problems of level. The opening lower strings are all but inaudible, meaning that if one cranks up the volume, the louder passages become at best uncomfortable (TRACK 3).

The first movement is expansive (listen to the initial ascending horn/cello arpeggiation, TRACK 1). It is soon clear that there is a remarkable control of the orchestra in evidence here - but that control is put at the service of some very impulsive accelerandi (from 11’ onwards there is almost the impression of skidding out of control!).

The famous Adagio is the redeeming factor in this account (TRACK 2). There is a real warmth to the sound that manages to crawl its way across the decades, coupled with Jochum’s innate harmonic sensitivity. Coming complete with cymbal crash, there is a predominant confidence that only falters again at around the 11 minute mark. It is almost worth the price of the disc for the lead in to the entrance of the Wagner tubas (who, alas, enter rather unsubtly at 21’46 and mar the moment). In addition to the problem of sound level mentioned above, the Scherzo and Trio suffers from an overly serious slant. Jochum attempts to whip up some excitement prior to the Trio, which he milks too much (a sign of the times, perhaps: there are even some syrupy portamenti). Ensemble between horns and violins is not entirely accurate, either.

The finale is brisk, but not so breezy. Although initially it feels that there is an underlying intensity proceeding in tandem with Jochum’s chosen pulse, in the final analysis the cumulative energy inherent in this score fails to appear. Distortion in the heftier moments does not help.

An interesting document, then, but definitely not a first choice.

Documentation deserves a comment or two. The booklet notes are not booklet-bound at all: there is a ‘free download’ at Very generous of them. Assuming one has internet access and printer, there is still the question of fitting cumbersome A4 sheets in to one’s slip-case (also, the notes were not yet up when I received my review copy, resulting in a delay for this review).

It really does feel as if one is handling half a product.

Colin Clarke

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