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Eugen Jochum (conductor)
The Choral Recordings on Philips
Rec. 1952-72
ELOQUENCE 484 2000 [13 CDs: 822:00]

Eloquence has taken a long look at Eugen Jochum’s substantial Philips’ legacy and divided it into two box sets thus far, one devoted to the orchestral recordings (review) and the other to the choral. As I noted in that previous review, matters are complicated because of the existence of DG’s operatic-and-choral recordings in the conjoined DG-Philips 38-CD box on 4798237. There was a companion orchestral box from DG as well. I suspect that a Jochum opera box will complete Eloquence’s work – which will then break up the potentially cumbersome size of DG’s box into a strict division between opera and choral - but we will have to see.

In the decade and a half between 1958 and 1973 Jochum recorded Bach’s greatest sacred works, Haydn’s Creation, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis and Rudolf Mengelberg’s Magnificat. If you have the Orchestral box set you will be aware that the Mengelberg piece, which was recorded in 1952, is there as well. Its place in that earlier box was always anomalous albeit welcome, but its proper place is in this new set.

Each of these recordings, other than the Mengelberg, is so well known that no great critical ink spilling is really warranted. The Mass in B minor has good soloists; Lois Marshall (not always in quite her best voice), Hertha Töpper, Peter Pears, and the two basses Kim Borg (Quoniam tu solus sanctus) and Hans Braun (singing Et in Spritum Sanctum). The orchestral soloists are impressive; concertmaster Rudolf Koeckert in particular, though the mighty first trumpet Karl Benzinger is just as refined. Jochum’s tempi are resilient and he almost invariably keeps the music directional with an ethos of deep spirituality and nobility, consistent features of his performances, and profoundly informed by the new Catholic teaching of Romano Guardini. The only time Jochum diverts from the linearity of his approach is in Et incarnatus est, the slowness of which, when contextualised in terms of the work as a whole, strikes me as a miscalculation. However, it could hardly have struck Jochum as such and one should respect this tempo deviation as an index of his deep seriousness. I would, however, say that I prefer Jochum’s Bavarian remake of the Mass in B minor to this live 1957 reading. Despite its reputation as having been well recorded I find the choral singing too often unfocused and rather muddy and you just don’t want that in this of all works.

For the St Matthew Passion in 1965, with a vocal cast numbering Ernst Haefliger, Walter Berry, Agnes Giebel, Marga Höffgen, John van Kesteren, Franz Crass and Leo Ketelaars, Jochum turned to the Concertgebouw. The orchestra included two oboe de caccia, two violin soloists – Herman Krebbers, as expected, but also Jo Juda - and a viola da gamba, amongst others. Haefliger was the Evangelist of choice; there are at least two examples of him singing it with Karl Richter – including the 1958 LP set with, inter alia, Fischer-Dieskau and Irmgard Seefried - and one with Casals conducting, though it’s sung in English (Richter, incidentally, was a stumbling block for Jochum’s Bach performances in Munich where the incumbent conductor seemed the only acceptable conduit for the great Passions: Jochum only returned to the city when Richter had shuffled off into the great beyond). Jochum’s approach to the Passions was consistently expressive with a rarefied romanticism that never tended to extremes – in some respects he and Richter had more in common than some were prepared to acknowledge, given Richter was always seen as the great German Bach proponent of the time. Jochum directed 38 performances of the St Matthew Passion in Amsterdam between 1961 and 1972 and even at the time there were some critical voices suggesting that the chorus and orchestra were too big but the recording is so fine and the performance so warm that it can only be heard in the context of devotional performances of Jochum’s youth – and also the Dutch Bach traditions in Amsterdam established by Willem Mengelberg. Incidentally Niek Nelissen’s fine notes relate the names of some of the singers suggested for this recording and who for various reasons were not included; Fischer-Dieskau (busy elsewhere), Gérard Souzay (Jochum wasn’t keen), Peter Pears, Erna Spoorenberg and Hans Braun.

It would be rather crass to say Jochum had a vocal repertory company but close to the heart of these recordings are the names of Agnes Giebel, Marga Höffgen, Haefliger, Franz Crass and Walter Berry. For the St John Passion in 1967 all five appear, as did Alexander Young. A sign of the times can be noted in the continuo group where we find the name of Anner Bijlsma. This reverential performance also enshrines a strong, romantically orientated reading, with a big band and the equally weighty chorus of Netherlands Radio. Yet even here Jochum has a way of ensuring musical mobility and the recording – whilst never being spotlit – is never too marmoreal to dampen the flute playing of those great Concertgebouw wind players, flautist Hubert Barwahser, oboist Han de Vries and the playing of Leo van der Lek, the first oboe da caccia. Even the organ of Bernard Bartelink is finely balanced.

In 1972 Jochum was back in Munich to record the Christmas Oratorio with the forces of Bavarian Radio. The quartet of singers was Elly Ameling, Brigitte Fassbaender, Horst Laubenthal and Hermann Prey. Ameling had, in fact, only recently recorded the work with Karl Münchinger in Stuttgart (Helen Watts, Tom Krause and Peter Pears made up the quartet in that Decca set). Jochum catches the jubilance of the work and he brings consummate and characteristic gravity to the chorales. Wie soll ich dich empfangen, though very brief, is a perfect example of his approach; solemnity at a dignified but forward-moving tempo, lyrically moulded, with large orchestral and choral forces finely balanced. The spirit of the performance fits well alongside the more overtly joyous Münchinger and Richter’s more intense interpretation with Janowitz, Ludwig, Wunderlich and Crass. There’s no doubting the first-class recording quality.

Jochum was a wonderful interpreter of Haydn’s symphonies as that famous box of the ‘London’ symphonies will remind one. His recording of The Creation came in 1966 in Munich, just preceding Münchinger’s much-admired Stuttgart recording for Decca. The emergence of two such great recordings would have presented copious quandaries for a record-buying public less able to add – in terms of financial constraint and limitations in availability – alternative boxes of works to their shelves. Jochum collectors will know that an earlier recording has circulated, given in 1952 but not released until 1980. In 1966 his singers are Agnes Giebel, Waldemar Kmentt (a little blustery from time to time) and a very characterful Gottlob Frick. Harpsichordist Margarethe Scharitzer and organist Mechthild von Kries make valuable contributions but the stars are the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and chorus which were now ordinarily under their relatively new director, Rafael Kubelík. There’s a significant cut in Holde Gattin, dir zur Seite, the duet between Adam and Eve that prefaces Uriel’s brief recitative and the work’s final chorus. Apparently Jochum felt it held up the narrative action - and this was a habitual cut of his. The last track of the second disc of The Creation contains the Mengelberg Magnificat, reviewed in the companion box set.

The last disc contains Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, another Concertgebouw recording, this time from September 1970. Once again there are Jochum favourites Agnes Giebel, Marga Höffgen and Ernst Haefliger, this time with the addition of bass Karl Ridderbusch. This was Jochum’s last studio recording with the orchestra and remains one of the greatest inscriptions of this work on disc. It seemed to chime with his own very personal spiritual and religious convictions and his identification with what he termed Beethoven’s conception of ‘the indescribable sweetness of consolation, happiness, dance, ecstasy carried to the bounds of mystical transport…’ This is part of an essay that was included in the LP and amounted to something of a Jochum Testament concerning the work and, by extension, his perception of the composer too. Beautifully recorded and equally beautifully played – note Herman Krebbers’ outstanding solo in the Benedictus - the music’s virility but also its luminous transcendence fuses with Jochum’s drawing out of its overwhelming humanity in this outstanding reading. It marks a fitting end to this sequence of choral recordings.

As I mentioned there is the advantage of Niek Nelissen’s notes, finely translated by Margaret Kofod, with some vividly reproduced black and white photographs, and first-class sound. There are no texts but I hardly think that’s a concern whilst the discs themselves are housed in miniaturised LP reproductions. An exemplary production, in short, of a lastingly important body of choral recordings.

Jonathan Woolf

CDs 1–2
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Mass in B minor, BWV 232
Lois Marshall, soprano I
Hertha Töpper, soprano II
Peter Pears, tenor
Kim Borg, Hans Braun, bass
Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

CDs 3–5
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Matthäus-Passion, BWV 244 (St. Matthew Passion)
Ernst Haefliger, tenor (Evangelist)
Walter Berry, bass (Jesus)
Agnes Giebel, soprano
Marga Höffgen, alto
John van Kesteren, tenor (arias)
Franz Crass, Leo Ketelaars, bass (arias)
Netherlands Radio Chorus/Boys’ Chorus of St. Willibrord’s, Amsterdam/Concertgebouworkest

CDs 6–7
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Johannes-Passion, BWV 245 (St. John Passion)
Ernst Haefliger, tenor (Evangelist)
Walter Berry, bass (Jesus)
Agnes Giebel, soprano (arias & Ancilla)
Marga Höffgen, alto (arias)
Alexander Young, tenor (arias & Servus)
Franz Crass, bass (arias & Petrus, Pilatus)
Netherlands Radio Chorus/Concertgebouworkest

CDs 8–10
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Weihnachts-Oratorium, BWV 248 (Christmas Oratorio)
Elly Ameling, soprano (arias & Engel)
Brigitte Fassbaender, alto (arias)
Horst R. Laubenthal, tenor (arias & Evangelist)
Hermann Prey, bass (arias & Herodes)
Tölzer Knabenchor/Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

CDs 11–12
Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Die Schöpfung, Hob. XXI:2 (The Creation)
Agnes Giebel, soprano (Gabriel, Eva)
Waldemar Kmentt, tenor (Uriel)
Gottlob Frick, bass (Raphael, Adam)
Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

Rudolf MENGELBERG (1892–1959)
Annie Woud, alto

CD 13
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Missa solemnis, Op. 123
Agnes Giebel, soprano
Marga Höffgen, alto
Ernst Haefliger, tenor
Karl Ridderbusch, bass
Netherlands Radio Chorus/Concertgebouworkest
CDs 1–2
Recording Location: Herkulessaal, Munich, Germany, December 1957 (Live Recording)
CDs 3–5
Recording Location: Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 20–30 November 1965
CDs 6–7
Recording Location: Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 3–8 June 1967
CDs 8–10
Recording Location: Herkulessaal, Munich, Germany, 9–15 October 1972
CD 11 – CD 12 (tracks 1 – 7)
Recording Location: Residenz, Herkulessaal, Munich, Germany, 9–15 July 1966
CD 12 (track 8)
Recording Location: Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, April 1952
CD 13
Recording Location: Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 24–29 September 1970

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