The great German conductor Eugen Jochum is currently being given his due with several fine recordings having been re-released and receiving a just and merited re-appraisal. This magnificent set of the Beethoven symphonies together with the 'Leonora' quartet of overtures is another important addition to the Jochum canon and in these freshly remastered versions; we can once again appreciate an old style of conducting that is rapidly coming into fashion once again.
Jochum opts for several tempo changes when he feels that the music requires such an approach and this can work to a thrilling effect especially in the finales of the 'Eroica' and the 'Choral' symphonies – in the latter the transition to the 'Joy' theme makes one's hair stand up on end. Conversely he directs very matter of fact and perhaps slightly dull performances of the 1st, 2nd and 4th symphonies with slow movements that occasionally linger rather too much, a far cry from the infectious energy imparted by the legendary Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique conducted by John Eliot Gardiner on Archiv.
I greatly enjoyed Jochum's fiery interpretations of the Fifth and Seventh although the latter is perhaps slightly too earthbound, compare Erich Kleiber and the VPO in his legendary recording here. The Eighth is also very successful with the music presented in the clearest way possible. As Jeremy Hayes tells us in his excellently concise and succinct biographical note, the interpretations of the four Leonora overtures are superb especially #2 which is full of fire and brimstone.
The recordings hail from 1967 to 1969 and are superb in their clarity and detail so no one needs to worry on that front. Jochum's interpretations are very much a matter of taste. If you identify with the new schools of thought regarding Beethoven, including Norrington, Eliot Gardiner, Hogwood or Harnoncourt, then perhaps this set is not for you. But for those who enjoy the great German tradition that is now lost, imbued in conductors such as Furtwängler, Karajan, Klemperer, Schuricht, et al, then this fine set will sit snugly on your bookshelf and when it is playing, it will definitely bring rousing memories of a lost tradition.
Copyright © 2007, Gerald Fenech