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CD: Forgotten Records

Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony no.85 in E flat major Hob.I/85 .- “La Reine” [19:56]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony no.3 in D major D.200 [22:35]
Symphony no.5 in B flat major D.485 [25:39]
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie (Haydn), Hamburg Chamber Orchestra (Nordwestdeutschen Rundfunks) (Schubert)/Georg Ludwig Jochum
rec. 18 February 1959, Bielefield (Haydn), May 1954, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (Schubert)

Experience Classicsonline

Most readers will have a few records, quite possibly a lot, conducted by Eugen Jochum. But I wonder how many even know that his elder brother Georg Ludwig (1909-1970) was also a conductor. Like his brother Eugen, Georg Ludwig was noted for his Bruckner. Some time ago a composite cycle of historical Bruckner symphony recordings was issued in which the conducting was shared between the two brothers. However, while Eugen’s career took him to the four corners of the earth, Georg Ludwig remained essentially a local German artist.

If you belong to the fraternity that thinks the only problem with classical symphonies, quartets and sonatas is all those bloody repeats, GLJ will be your man. The first movement of “La Reine” is one of those where Haydn marks both parts to be repeated. Not every conductor would give you the second-half repeat even today, but GLJ does without the first as well. In the second movement, every single section except the last is supposed to be played twice, but GLJ sails serenely through as if no one had ever taught him what those two dots before a double bar mean. He also interprets Haydn’s marking of Allegretto in two as Andante in four, so I daresay a modern Historically Informed Performance with all repeats would not actually last much longer than GLJ’s 5:37. GLJ’s chosen tempo, though, is very gracefully brought off, not at all heavy. The Menuetto gets its repeats – this seems to have been an unwritten rule even then – and the tiny repeat at the beginning of the finale is played.

In other respects, too, this Haydn performance is of its day. The old Breitkopf parts are unquestioningly used. Or at least, since I don’t actually have an old Breitkopf score, I am charitably assuming that the discrepancies between what is printed in my score edited by Robbins Landon and what is played – quite a lot of phrasing but some actual notes too – are due to the edition used rather than alterations by GLJ himself. In truth the Robbins Landon edition came out in 1950, so GLJ had no excuse. But then, Beecham had no excuse either and people tend to accept his use of discredited Haydn editions as part of the game.

But there is a positive side, too. I remarked recently, à propos performances of the first two Beethoven concertos by Felicia Blumenthal, conducted by Robert Wagner, that this was music-making from an age before “originality” raised its head, when there was a shared perception of tempi and general style. Conductor and orchestra are simply settling down to enjoy the music as they know it, as they believe it to be and as they have always believed it to be. In the present finale, “settling down” may be the operative word since their interpretation of Haydn’s “Presto” is, to put it kindly, comfortable. But even here there is a sense of good-natured enjoyment.

In the case of Beethoven this unquestioning acceptance of the received interpretation, when combined with a genuine enjoyment of the music, can still reveal important facets of many-faceted music. HIP has brought losses as well as gains. In the case of Haydn the gains have been greater, the losses smaller, and the received interpretation of fifty years ago is likely to sound slightly wrong today. Yet it remains enjoyable music-making, rhythmically alive and springy, with some dynamic shading. The players’ confidence in what they are doing can be infectious. So in the end this still has something to tell us.

GLJ is a bit more generous over repeats in Schubert. No. 3, in particular, is quite impressive because the conductor does not underplay the music. The main section of the first movement has a good lilt and considerable strength. No special charm in second subject territory but quite affectionately handled nevertheless. The only drawback is that the finale, while not exactly slow, lacks the fizz its tarantella rhythms – and Presto vivace marking – surely call for.

If the fifth is a little less successful, this reflects the fact that it is more difficult to bring off. The first movement is purposeful enough at the outset but in second subject territory GLJ apparently just beats time steadily and lets the music find its own solution. It sounds a bit perfunctory. The second movement needs more arching phrasing if a tempo closer to adagio than “Andante con moto” is not to drag and the steady-as-she-goes finale seems to confirm GLJ’s reluctance to make a finale really “zip”.

Forgotten Records is a French label that has dedicated itself to reviving LPs that have sunk beneath the horizon. Their transfers are straightforward and honest. They don’t remove surface hiss – not that there’s all that much here – but they seem to have access to excellent copies and equipment that shows them at their best. The recordings emerge as good mono for their period. The back cover gives full track and recording information, also a list of internet links where you can find more information, though in the case of GLJ it just amounts to a few lines on Wikipedia. The German Wikipedia entry is fuller if you can read it. The “booklet” is just a pretty cover with nothing in it. I don’t think Forgotten Records have found buried treasure in this case and I certainly didn’t get the impression that the Jochum brothers’ reputations should be reversed. But it’s quite an enjoyable peep into the past.

Christopher Howell








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