On Jochum’s Bruckner

7 December, 2006

I’ve been listening to the Bruckner symphonies conducted by Jochum, on EMI. I still don’t like them, and I don’t understand why he’s so popular. Maybe it’s because his were the “breakthrough” records for Bruckner in the 1970s. Maybe it’s because he reduces the epic quality that this music should have, making these long German symphonies a little less intimidating.

I tried for ages to decide: was he underplaying the emotions, or overplaying? In the end I had to conclude that he was simply getting it wrong. He shapes the music as though it was the composer’s personal emotional statement, which I think is to mistake Bruckner’s purpose. Bruckner came from church music, which is about spiritual expression, not individual sentiment.

Jochum’s approach is more suited to composers who wear their hearts on their sleeves, e.g. Tchaikovsky, or who have a light, colourful romantic style, e.g. Saint Saens. What style of conducting would suit Bruckner? Something with more propulsion, surely, and expressive in a more laconic vein, but also a sense of other-worldliness. (And with a better brass section than the horribly overrated Dresden brass.) Actually, I think Bruckner requires the same qualities as Sibelius. I’ll have to look for performances by Maazel, Berglund, Ashkenazy and Schmidt.

I have Wand conducting symphony no. 5 and 9 (NDR Symphony Orch.), both quite good (better than Jochum), Tintner conducting 4 (very good, but a little slow and a little too smooth for my taste), Mravinsky conducting 9 (1980 performance on Point Classics, a real bargain), and Horvat conducting 4 (also Point Classics, another great bargain from an unknown conductor). All these beat Jochum. It was a mistake to buy the EMI set, and I recommend the curious against repeating my mistake.

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