Jochum CD Bounty Accents Bruckner In First Release
Eugen Jochum: Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon. Vol. 1 Orchestral Works. Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9, Violin Concerto (Schneiderhan), Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Pollini). Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4, Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Gilels), Violin Concerto (Milstein). Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 93-104. Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 1-9. MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 33, 36, 39-41. Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9. Etc. Berlin Philharmonic and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eugen Jochum cond. DG 479 6314, 42 CDs
By Paul E.Robinson
DIGITAL REVIEW – Before preparing to conduct any piece of music, the first question every conductor must ask is, “What does the composer want?” The most crucial information obviously is supplied by the score itself, but even the most meticulously detailed manuscript leaves the conductor with more than a few unanswered issues. If the piece is contemporary, the conductor may be able to get answers directly from the composer; unfortunately, many creators of pieces considered to be part of the standard classical music repertoire are no longer around for consultation. That said, help is sometimes available in other forms.
When Sir Simon Rattle conducted Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Metropolitan Opera last month, for example, he drew on what he had learned from a score used by Mahler at the Vienna State Opera. Mahler had added dozens of markings concerning dynamics, phrasing, and beat patterns. Why was this useful to Rattle? It was not because Mahler was a famous composer; rather, it was because Mahler was one of the leading conductors of his time, and while he had not known Wagner personally, he had studied with and learned from people who had. In other words, these relationships helped Mahler and later Rattle get closer to how Wagner wanted his music to be performed.
In the case of Bavarian-born conductor Eugen Jochum (1902-1987), we have a man celebrated for his authority conducting the works of Anton Bruckner. As was the case with Wagner, Mahler, and Rattle, Jochum enjoyed a number of relationships that led directly back to Bruckner. He studied at the Munich Academy with Siegmund von Hausegger (1872-1948), a renowned Bruckner conductor of his time. Hausegger, 24 when Bruckner died, studied and worked with musicians who had known Bruckner. Later, Hausegger gave the first performance of the original version of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony and made the first commercial recording of that piece in 1938. Jochum learned his Bruckner from Hausegger and made his professional debut in 1926 conducting Hausegger’s Munich Philharmonic in Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony.
Jochum went on to become one of the greatest opera and concert conductors of the 20th century. Head of the Hamburg Opera from 1934 until 1949, he created the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, now one of the world’s foremost orchestras, which he conducted from 1949 to 1960. He also enjoyed close associations with both the Berlin Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam.
Starting in 1949 and continuing into the 1970s, Jochum made recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. Later, he recorded extensively for both Philips and EMI.
This current volume includes all of Jochum’s orchestral recordings for DG, and the company recently issued a separate volume devoted to the sacred works of Bruckner (DG 479 6197). In coming years, there will likely be volumes containing both Jochum’s opera recordings (Die Meistersinger, Così fan tutte, etc.) and choral recordings (Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mozart’s Requiem, etc.).
Between 1958 and 1967, Jochum recorded all nine Bruckner symphonies in stereo with either the BRSO or the Berlin Philharmonic. He had also done mono recordings of the Fourth (1955), Seventh (1952), Eighth (1949), and Ninth (1954). In this boxed set, 13 CDs are devoted to the Bruckner symphonies. In addition, there are excerpts from rehearsals for the Third Symphony recording made with the BRSO in 1966.
While Jochum can trace his authority in Bruckner back to the composer himself, it should be emphasized that he was always careful to balance tradition with scholarship. For his 1949 recording of the Eighth Symphony with the Hamburg Philharmonic, he used the Robert Haas edition, but for his later DG Bruckner cycle — including a remake of the Eighth Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic — he used Leopold Nowak’s post-war, almost universally accepted critical edition. For his part, Nowak paid the ultimate compliment to Jochum’s diligence: “The only conductor who ever came to the library, or wrote to ask questions about the sources in all my years editing Bruckner, was Eugen Jochum.”
All the Bruckner recordings in this set are exceptionally fine, and the later ones obviously benefit from better recorded sound. As a conductor, Jochum, painstaking in his preparation, was greatly influenced by Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954). Like Furtwängler, he believed in adjusting tempos within movements, frequently opted for an extremely wide range of dynamics, and never lost sight of the need for spontaneity in his music-making. In the Bruckner performances in this CD set, there are numerous moments of breathtaking beauty, as well as overwhelmingly powerful climaxes.
Jochum was equally at home in the music of Mozart and Haydn. The clarity and precision he achieved often reminds me of what we came to admire about George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra — unbelievably clean and transparent playing, with wonderfully expressive phrasing. Almost unique in revealing both Haydn’s spiritual side and his sense of humor, Jochum recorded all the “London” symphonies with the London Philharmonic between 1971 and 1973. Acclaimed by critics when they came out, these recordings of the symphonies, even after a generation of period-instrument performances, remain among the best available.
The Brahms symphonies from the early 1950s remain as impressive as ever, and the piano concertos with Emil Gilels from 1972 are unsurpassed. The Beethoven symphonies are on the slow side — especially the “Pastorale” — but the power of the “Eroica” has to be heard to be believed. Although Furtwängler’s influence is strong here, I am inclined to think that Jochum outdoes his mentor in the combination of precision, beauty of sound, and drama.
Any surprises in the set? I must confess that the Richard Strauss CD absolutely bowled me over. In 1952, Jochum recorded Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The sound is a little blowsy by current standards, but the passion and excitement in these performances are extraordinary. In both pieces, Jochum clarifies complex contrapuntal textures as never before in my experience, while never for a moment losing sight of either the storytelling or the emotion. The solo trumpet playing in Don Juan rivals even that of the great Adolph Herseth in the legendary Reiner recordings on RCA Victor with the Chicago Symphony.
Jochum guest-conducted very few American orchestras during his long career, but he did make one notable recording, which is included in this set, with the Boston Symphony. Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony is played with vigor and transparency. It is a pleasure to hear the woodwinds stand out so clearly. Schubert’s “Unfinished” is done with beauty and grace.
For something more: In 2012, EMI issued a 20-CD Jochum set (EMI Classics 64004) documenting the conductor’s major recording activities after the DG period. The set included Bach’s Mass in B minor, the complete Beethoven symphonies with the London Symphony, the complete Brahms symphonies with the London Philharmonic, and the complete Bruckner symphonies with the Staatskapelle Dresden. These recordings were made in the 1970s and are generally excellent.
Paul E. Robinson is a Canadian conductor and broadcaster and the author of four books on conductors. He writes regularly about music for www.theartoftheconductor.com, www.musicaltoronto.org, and www.myscena.org.Date posted: October 31, 2016