Eugen Jochum conducts BRUCKNER Symphony No. 7

by | Feb 9, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major; WAGNER: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro Overture

Performers: Orchestre National de France/ Orchestre National de la RTF (Mozart)/ Eugen Jochum conducting
Studio: EMI Classics DVD 
Video: 4:3 Color and Black & White (Mozart only)
Audio: PCM Mono
Length: 95:48
Rating: ****:

Taped at the Champs-Elysees Theater, Paris, 6 February 1980, the Bruckner Seventh Symphony (edition Leopold Nowak) finds a French orchestra being led by the eminent German conductor Eugen Jochum (1902-1987).  [INA Memoire Vive has already proffered the Bruckner and Wagner in audio form from Jochum’s session two days later on February 8 (IMV 033).]  As edited by Jacques Spohr and directed by Mate Rabinovski, the film concept relies heavily on superimposed images of Jochum and individual members and choirs of the orchestra, achieving a vertical effect. We get occasional images of Jochum’s left hand, fluttering an indication for his strings to give him more intensity; his face is always moving as he sings the melodic tissue to the choir he attends. Wonderful images of oboe and trombones at key periods which the figure of the bow-tied Jochum slashes through .

Rarely have we had such silken Bruckner realization, much less from a French ensemble, where the entire tradition of Bruckner interpretation only evolved after the late 1950s. The Wagner tubas are in hearty evidence for the opening of the fiery yet slow (26 minute) Adagio, the cameras lingering on the first violins, flute, and violas; then Jochum’s rapt facial features, the baton in constant motion and the old man singing his heart out. The stringed instruments all visually resonate a burnished color, the woods seem to pulsate with music. Superimposition to the trumpets with French horns and back to Jochum for the climactic passages. A nice touch is the camera’s sudden focus only on Jochum’s low-positioned hands, shades of Robert Hupka’s Toscanini portraits. The glint of light off the trombones knocks your eye out as Jochum lifts the hymn, Himmel hoch, into the stratosphere, the violins each applying uniform vibrato to the singing line. The Scherzo has Jochum’s shedding about 30 years before the camera, with his gesticulating for martial and laendler figures, the left hand urging more intensity from his violins. Brass and winds march out the galloping figures, the tympani rolling thunder as Jochum punches at the space in front of him. A breath, and the Finale is under way, oboe, flute, and shimmering strings in vivid conversation. The pulsating march motif enjoys a lovely decrescendo. The epic scale of the movement cascades to an inexorable, final peroration, the strings, brass and Jochum arching upwards, so that the applause seems to extend the music, the string players tapping their bows at their desks, the audience and orchestra universally acknowledging Jochum as the Bruckner conductor par excellence.

True to EMI’s DVD tracking, you must again direct your remote to continue the program for the Wagner selection. From the audience’s greeting and Jochum’s acknowledgment of the concertmaster, the Wagner opened the evening. The camera confronts Jochum head on, then cuts to the cellos and clarinets. Minimal gestures from Jochum, his left hand held in abeyance for the big surge to the suspended harmonies and plucked notes in the strings. Superimpositions of Jochum and the low strings. Disembodied woodwinds segue to the strings, back and forth, then the French horns, flute, then fade out to Jochum and the first violins. The long-boned Jochum seems about to stretch out of his tuxedo jacket as the melody extends into the infinite, his left hand washing colors in lateral movements. Tympani and trumpets flare up, and the whole cosmic mix dies down into the Tristan chord, ready for the annihilating mystery of the Liebestod. The camera follows Jochum’s left hand indication for the wind entries, then cut to the French horns as the texture fills out, the strings and harp soaring to Isolde’s crescendo. The camera pulls back for the  tremolandi, then cut to a full frontal shot of Jochum before the tutti, panning in over the tops of the strings as the orchestra explodes in orchestrated ecstasy, the tympani and cellos and flute singing to and being sung to by Jochum. The harp and flute detumesce, the whole orchestra shimmering in fond recollection, the camera lingering on Jochum’s benign countenance.

The bonus track derives from the ORTF archives 9 April 1964, the sequence directed in black and white at the Salle Pleyel by Denise Billon. Jochum’s right hand does all the work, then the left hand clutches the melody from the busy, jubilant dancing figures. The  video quality has a weather-beaten, washed out qulaity, like wet cardboard. But Mozart sings and dances with pungent energy, Jochum’s subito a swift sword of motion denied. The left hand goes limp until the last page, then everything flutters in happy engagement.  It’s all over much too quickly.

–Gary Lemco

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