Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (Linz version, ed Nowak) [47.05]
Symphony No. 2 in C minor (1877 version, ed Nowak) [52.38]
Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1889 version, ed Nowak) [55.13]
Symphony No. 4 in E flat ‘Romantic’ (1886 version, ed Nowak) [65.05]
Symphony No. 5 in B flat (ed Nowak) [77.28]
Symphony No. 6 in A (ed Nowak) [56.21]
Symphony No. 7 in E (ed Nowak) [69.27]
Symphony No. 8 in C minor (1890 version, ed Nowak) [76.05]
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (ed Nowak) [60.44]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Eugen Jochum
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, December 1975 (4), November 1976 (8), December 1976 (7), January 1977 (3,9), June 1978 (6), December 1978 (1), February-March 1979 (5), July 1980 (2)
WARNER CLASSICS 984583 2 [9 CDs: 550:06]
Eugen Jochum’s pioneering complete stereo set of the Bruckner symphonies was issued by DG during the 1960s. A decade later EMI Classics issued an alternative view of the works from the same conductor with the Dresden Staatskapelle, which has already been previously available as a bargain box. It is this latter set which now re-emerges from Warner, and the first thing to be said is that - unlike many of the reissues from this source - we are given a booklet with some notes on both the composer and the conductor. However these are far from comprehensive - a mere nine pages in total, about three pages each in English, French and German, with nothing at all about the music itself. One thing they signally fail to discuss is the edition of the symphonies which Jochum espoused in both his complete sets, that by Nowak.
Now the Nowak edition of the symphonies, published after the Second World War, comes into direct competition with the edition by Robert Haas published during the pre-War period. They were welcomed at the time because they were free of Haas’s perceived taint of Nazism. Unlike Haas, who sought to give us the symphonies at full length - including some splicing together of different versions even when this led to discrepancies in the orchestral forces required - Nowak espoused the latest version that could be shown to be authorised by Bruckner free from the well-meaning interference of interpreters who were seeking to ‘popularise’ his music. Leaving aside the vexed question of what could be regarded as ‘interference’ and what as ‘authorised’, the results are not always happy. Conductors have long felt free to make their own choices between Haas, Nowak and the original versions as shown in Bruckner’s original manuscripts. The results can be startlingly different one from another particularly in the Third, Fourth and Eighth.Jochum plumps unhesitatingly for Nowak pure and simple, and although this enables him to get the Eighth for example onto one disc the results are not always convincing. I am not going to get involved in a lengthy discussion about the merits of the various editions, a subject which even Deryck Cooke got into controversial hot water over forty years since; I just make the observation that the matter of editions, which the booklet notes completely ignore, is a matter of not inconsiderable consequence.
This is not an absolutely complete survey of the Bruckner symphonies, any more than was Jochum’s earlier DG cycle. The early Study Symphony is missing; so, more seriously is the Symphony No. 0, a distinctive title which Bruckner bestowed on the symphony to show that he did not totally regard it as being outside the canon. It was in fact written after the First Symphony, and since it is a pretty good work with plenty of Brucknerian fingerprints, it really ought to have been included - as it was for example in Daniel Barenboim’s first cycle in Chicago, and Solti’s generally more uneven traversal from the same location - although Karajan also omitted it from his generally excellent Berlin survey of the symphonies, as did Barenboim from his later Berlin cycle.
Leaving the vexed question of editions to one side, it must be said first that the sound on these recordings, more than thirty years old, still remains highly impressive. The balance is invariably well judged, and important lines of counterpoint which can ‘go missing’ in Haitink’s contemporaneous Concertgebouw cycle are always clearly defined. To take one example from among many: in the extraordinary coda to the Romantic Symphony, the reiterated tremolo string theme which launches the passage towards its Sibelius-like motoric climax all too often becomes submerged beneath the sustained wind and brass themes that lie above it. Here it remains clearly audible in all its inexorable potency right up to the end where the main theme from the opening movement triumphantly returns.
One’s only complaint about the orchestral sound might be that the use of modern trumpets brings their lines to the fore in a manner that sometimes obtrudes. Bruckner generally wrote for the nineteenth-century trumpet in F, an instrument that had a lower fundamental pitch but had the concomitant disadvantage of being decidedly treacherous in the upper register. One suspects that it would have formed more of a unit with Bruckner’s resonant trombones and horns than the modern instruments pitched a fourth higher which are employed in modern orchestras.
Jochum was largely responsible for creating the modern tradition of performance in Bruckner. The earliest conductors of these symphonies invariably made use of corrupt and tampered editions; indeed they were largely responsible for the creation of some of them. Even Furtwängler’s idiosyncratic and mystical approach to the scores tended to obscure the music’s essentially classical structures, on which Bruckner himself laid so much emphasis. One thing Jochum did however take over from the Furtwängler tradition was his sometimes extreme modifications of tempo throughout, inserting unmarked accelerandi and ritardandi with a liberal hand. The results can often be highly disconcerting, whipping up a tension which might seem to be diametrically opposed to the fidelity to the composer’s indications that Jochum is at pains to emphasise elsewhere. This quality explains the reputation for ‘impulsiveness’ by which Jochum’s Bruckner is sometimes described, an instinctive reaction to the emotion of the moment rather than the shape of the whole.
Then again, one could quite legitimately claim that Wagner, Bruckner’s idol, insisted that a principal function of the conductor was to moderate the basic tempo in accordance with the meaning of the music. Indeed Bruckner would almost certainly have expected this, even when he did not specifically indicate it in his notoriously vague notation of his scores. Time and again Jochum states a theme at one speed and then - as the music launches itself into one of many passages of repeated patterns - accelerates through each and every repetition, until sometimes the music at the end is nearly twice as fast as it was at the beginning. This surely cannot have been the composer’s intention, otherwise he would have marked a new tempo for the end of the passage. Some modification of the speed might well be desirable - although other conductors have proved that the steady repetition can generate increased excitement in its own right, without the need for any associated increase in tempo - but Jochum carries the process to extremes. The fact that he does it so often means that in due course a law of diminishing returns sets in. One comes to anticipate and expect the accelerando with a sort of resignation. I don’t recall this as being so noticeable in Jochum’s earlier DG cycle; but it may well be that over the years we have come to resent this sort of pressure on the listener: “This music may be repeating the same phrase over and over again, but don’t you hear how the level of tension is increasing?” Yes, we can hear it; but we don’t need to have it spelled out to us every time.
After these general observations, let us finally get down to the business of the performances themselves. The first of the set to be recorded, the Romantic, benefits in particular from the beautiful sound of the Dresden horns who launch the work with a serenity and calm which never sounds falsely heroic. In the aforementioned coda - where Jochum for once restrains his impulse to accelerate through the repeated phrases - one could imagine a more romantic passion in the beautiful horn cantilena which emerges from the texture; Karajan’s Berlin player on DG tugs at the soul here. The sheer beauty of Jochum’s sound has a heartache of its own. The strings, sometimes pushed to extremes by the speed where they are landed at the end of one of Jochum’s accelerations, are always needle-crisp and strong exactly as they should be.
To continue our traversal of these recordings in the order they were taped, a year later Jochum set down the Seventh, Eighth and Third. The Seventh is quite simply a marvellous performance. The speeds are just right, and even Jochum’s modifications of the basic tempo now sound totally natural. The slow movement has just the right air of dignified mourning, and the Wagner tubas have an aura of nobility; the scherzo has a sense of lift and lightness which is thrilling, and the descending chromatic line which is set against the main theme does not overpower it (CD 7, track 3, 1.01). By comparison Jochum’s Eighth feels just a little too fast for my own taste, and does not avoid an occasional sense of hurry. The slow movement is fine, as is the barbaric folk dance of the scherzo; but the finale in particular - beginning with a fine sturdy opening - soon becomes just too quick for a tempo marking of Fierlich, nicht schnell. Incidentally, Jochum gets the grace notes in the strings and timpani, one of Bruckner’s most startling effects, exactly right in the opening section, with the short upbeat sounding on the barline rather than anticipating it. However he fails to capitalise on the similar effect for the solo horn in the scherzo. In this passage the timpani sound much further forward than elsewhere in this set, to good effect.
The Third Symphony is, of all the Bruckner canon, the one where the matter of ‘editions’ is almost impenetrably complex. The original version was subjected over the years to a whole succession of revisions, which generally consisted of abridgement of the music so that the final result - which we are given here - is a matter of some fifteen minutes shorter than the original. Jochum does a good job by what remains, but I must admit that the original version with its prolixity has a charm all of its own. It can be heard in a pioneering set by Eliahu Inbal which gave us all the Bruckner symphonies in their earliest forms, but it is better served by Georg Tintner’s Naxos cycle which similarly opts for the originals although substituting obviously better revisions such as the new scherzo for the Fourth - giving us some of the earlier versions as supplements.
In the First Symphony Jochum is fairly straightforward in his treatment; he slows down slightly for the second subject group in the first movement and then has to accelerate back to tempo. Although Bruckner does not indicate this it is certainly implied by the music itself and does not sound at all unnatural. In the scherzo, with its multiple repeats - some passages are marked to be played four times over - he gives us all the repeats until the end of the trio and then omits the marked repeats thereafter, which is surely right. What is more questionable is the manner in which he launches directly into the finale after the coda of the scherzo; assuming that this is intentional and not merely an editing oversight; it would seem to run contrary to the practice that Bruckner would have expected. Nevertheless this is a very fine performance, one of the best in the set, with characterful woodwind and heroic playing from the violins who Bruckner often cruelly scores in opposition to the full orchestra.
Much the same sort of considerations apply to the other symphonies in this set: Jochum’s performances of the Second, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies - where the issue of ‘editions’ is less of a consideration - are all excellent, and he surpasses himself with a performance of the unfinished Ninth which sets the seal on a generally magnificent traversal. The scherzo of the Ninth is superbly boisterous, and the slow movement has all the heartbreak that one could desire. Comparison with Karajan’s slightly later Berlin cycle generally favours the latter - Karajan has a better sense of architecture than Jochum, and avoids any tendency to rush through the many repeated patterns which run through the scores. Even so, Karajan is not devoid of a sense of routine in some of the earlier symphonies, conveying an impression that he recorded them merely to complete the set rather than out of any sense of identification with the music. Jochum certainly identifies with Bruckner’s scores, but his anxiety to convey this involvement to the listener sometimes leads to less satisfactory results especially in the Eighth Symphony. Karajan makes more pragmatic choices about the editions he uses, which is all to the good but anyone purchasing any one complete set of Bruckner symphonies will certainly need to supplement this with some of the alternative versions of the scores, particularly the original full-length version of the Third. It seems to me that there might be a place in the catalogues for a complete ‘variorum’ edition of the Bruckner symphonies, giving us all the different versions of each symphony; but this would necessitate a gross over-representation of the Third, and would deprive us of Haas’s reconstruction of the Eighth which incorporates sections of the earlier score into the later one to give us an entirely speculative - although convincing - version which Bruckner himself never contemplated. Of the existing cycles, Tintner on Naxos comes closest to this, but nevertheless leaves open the question of how one can satisfactorily decipher the intentions of a composer who so persistently changed his mind about what he actually wanted.
Having said which, even after nearly forty years Jochum is no bad guide through this music. Each symphony is contained on its own CD; Karajan, for example, with his slower speeds and different editions has to extend both the Fifth and Eighth onto a second disc.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
After nearly forty years Jochum is no bad guide through this music … a generally magnificent traversal of the cycle.
Masterwork Index: Bruckner symphonies
Symphonies of Anton Bruckner - a survey by John Quinn and Patrick Waller
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