Bruckner: Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9

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LABELS: EMI Double Forte
WORKS: Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Dresden Staatskapelle/Eugen Jochum
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 73827 2 ADD Reissue (1979, 1982)
Two very different views of Bruckner are represented here. Eugen Jochum’s performances are urgent, passionate, volatile – Bruckner wrestling with his demons, triumphantly in the Eighth Symphony, tragically in the Ninth. Rudolf Kempe’s Eighth is also intense, but grander, more expansive – the patient pilgrim gradually achieving visionary fulfilment. Kempe inclines towards steadier tempi, but he is not averse to rubato; and while Jochum takes a more fluid view of the underlying Brucknerian pulse, he isn’t as extreme as Furtwängler. Who is right? As so often with Bruckner there are no easy answers. One thing can be said for certain: the playing of the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra is on the whole more polished than that of the Dresden Staatskapelle, whose brass section often blares and wobbles unpleasantly; the Zürich (live) version is also less abrasively recorded. But there’s a fire and drive in the Dresden performances which compels attention even when the polish wears thin. If the grander architectural Bruckner is preferred, then the Wand/NDR recording is a degree or two more probing, but Jochum’s Eighth and Ninth symphonies defy comparison – these are very personal visions, and worth hearing as such. No other stereo-age recording brings out the life-death struggle in the unfinished Ninth so vividly and movingly. The imposing 1976 Berlin Philharmonic/Karajan Ninth can seem cold after Jochum. Architecture is important, but let’s not forget there’s human drama here too. Stephen Johnson