Bruckner-wise, Robert Simpson is still ex cathedra. In his discussion on the Ninth Symphony - a work that Bruckner dedicated to God - he rightly says that in certain instances one can sense that the composer himself is terrified by what he has unleashed with his pen. To my ears, it is less of a `Dark Night of the Soul' and more of a cosmic eclipse. Or perhaps the Tiresias-within could foresee Flanders and the Paper-Hanger.
Here on Amazon, a San Andreas fault-line divides Bruckner devotees into two camps. Most - but not all - will readily concede the excellence of Furtwangler or Karajan in this domain but Eugen Jochum is a far more divisive figure. Many acclaim his Bruckner to high heaven - and among their number are some formidable intellects. On my part, I have most of his DG and EMI series and as the years go by, I find them increasingly unlistenable: they're shelf-cloggers. Nor am I Robinson Crusoe.
Prose and Poetry jointly uphold the structure in any Bruckner symphony. Patience is mandatory. When that is lacking, a conductor will become a plodder in this repertoire - and all the old calumnies that were once hurled against `Mister Symphonic Boa Constrictor' gain legs. I am not against `gear-changes' per se in this music - Furtwangler is incorrigible in that respect - but Jochum's `cat on a hot tin roof' (scramble - pause - scramble) though a Bruckner Symphony - in my view at least - impairs its innate dignity and momentum. Yes Virginia, it is possible to be more energetic than one's rivals and still be laced with longueurs. But there is a more deepset issue.
Anyone can stand on the edge of the abyss and summon the spirits - but will they come?
This 1954 recording with the BRSO has been successfully remastered - the boxy mono sound at the commencement soon gives way to a more rounded picture. The orchestra plays idiomatically. It is a highly dramatic account (especially in the Scherzo) and I prefer it to the DG recording (there is more grip in the first movement), to say nothing of the wobble of a performance on EMI. The climax of the Adagio has a genuine kick to it. To be fair to Jochum, his gear changes are more subtly masked than in later traversals. But the deepset failure cannot be glossed over: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse fail to make an appearance, or if they do, they're mounted on ponies. Be it from failure or refusal, there is nothing daemonic in this performance. It's semi-masked by the orchestral response but its absence is noticeable all the same. The Furtwangler '44 takes one to the very gates of the Underworld and beyond - it is a hellish experience. Jochum lacks the wherewithal to do so.
This is a deeply subjective response to a fine conductor and I readily acknowledge that I might be wrong. I just wish Eugen himself would refute me that rather than third parties getting in my ear.
So all in all, it's another shelf-clogger. I like the packaging for that very reason.