Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jochum’s Essential 4 Bs
The fourth “B” of course is Bruckner, and Jochum’s authority in that music is so well known as to require little further comment from me. Suffice it to say that his Dresden Bruckner cycle remains a reference edition. Only in the Fourth Symphony does his earlier effort (for DG with the Berlin Philharmonic) eclipse the remake, and his EMI recordings of the Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth have few equals. But the real value of this 20 CD set rests in everything else, because Jochum was a very great conductor in the standard German repertoire, one who was largely overshadowed by bigger “names” on the labels for which he recorded.
His Bach, for example, was glorious, and he recorded a lot of it, mostly for Philips. At the very end of his career, however, he made this EMI digital version of the B Minor Mass with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and its exceptional chorus. The result, once again, is one of the reference versions of the work, and as a performance using large forces it virtually stands alone. Sample the conclusion of the Credo (first sound clip) and be honest: have you ever heard anything so uplifting and sonically magnificent?
Next we have Jochum’s Beethoven cycle with the London Symphony Orchestra. Jochum actually recorded these symphonies three times: first for DG, then with the Concertgebouw for Philips, and finally this cycle, which remains the best of them. It was Jochum’s Beethoven that earned him the reputation as a Furtwängler disciple, both for his sometimes leisurely tempos as well as for his rhythmic freedom and powerful shaping of structure and line. The difference was that Jochum also got the disciplined results from his players that his elder colleague neither matched nor (evidently) cared about. Sample the coda of the Seventh Symphony’s first movement (second sound clip); yes the tempo isn’t as quick as we’re used to today, but notice the amazing balance of sonority between strings and winds and the clarity of Beethoven’s harmonic substructure. No period instrument performance comes close to letting you hear so much, and more importantly, the music never sounds slow because of the richness of information that each moment conveys.
Jochum was also one of the great Brahms conductors of the 20th century, and both of his cycles remain reference editions that are well worth hearing. His remake for EMI, with the London Philharmonic is absolutely stunning form, yields to no one in terms of expressive range, excitement, and impact. Jochum’s shaping of the Second Symphony’s first movement ought to be required listening for all future interpreters–seldom has the music flowed so effortlessly. The coda of the Fourth Symphony’s finale offers an especially powerful (and paradigmatic) example of his remarkable ability to achieve the most powerful results through a flexible handling of tempo (third sound clip). And just listen to the orchestra play!
Aside from the 4Bs, this set also includes Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Vesperae solennes de confessore in performances (Bavarian Radio again) that match the standard set in Jochum’s Bach. All of the vocal soloists do an excellent job (an experienced opera conductor, Jochum always chose well), the sonics are uniformly fine throughout the set, and the simple truth is that there is no more impressive and consistent group of performances of this music by any other conductor, anywhere, whether separately or in a box. Having it all packaged together really does make you wonder how it is that Jochum’s achievement has been so underrated (except in Bruckner) for all these years.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com