Schubert sonatas

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Death and the Maiden (String Quartet in D minor, adapted by Andy Stein) [39:31]
Symphony No. 8 in B minor (completed by Brian Newbould and Mario Venzago) [38:19]
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, 9-11 November 2007
NAXOS 8.572051 [77:59]
Experience Classicsonline

Exactly why Schubert didn’t complete his Unfinished Symphony will always remain a mystery. What is even more of a mystery, however, is why some musicologists bother trying to complete it! The two-movement structure feels remarkably complete as it stands, but that hasn’t stopped Brian Newbould from fleshing out Schubert’s (minimal) sketches for a Scherzo. Furthermore, Mario Venzago thought it would be a good idea to tinker with the first Entr’acte from Rosamunde and install it as a finale. For me this just didn’t work at all. Attractive as the Rosamunde music is, Schubert did not conceive it as a symphonic finale and here it just sounds like it has been tacked on - which it has! As for the Scherzo, it sounds disjointed and harmonically very unstable, though it’s impossible to tell whether that’s down to Schubert or to Newbould. No: I just didn’t buy this. As for the performance of the first two movements, this was bitty and unsatisfying. Falletta chooses a fast tempo for the first movement and there is no exposition repeat, so it feels as if the scale of the music doesn’t have enough time to unfold. To add to this there is a lot of extraneous noise on the recording: audience noise (though the notes don’t say anything about it being a live recording), creaking chairs and even page turns. That’s really not acceptable unless it’s a knockout recording of the work itself, and in view of the competition this one really doesn’t shape up, in spite of the more intense second movement. It’s really only for those who want to try the completion.

Having said all that, I really liked the arrangement of Death and the Maiden. This work still exerts a perennial fascination, having attracted a famous arrangement from Mahler. Arrangers are still entranced by it today. Andy Stein’s edition is very different from Mahler’s though: Mahler only expanded the string forces to fit a chamber orchestra, but Stein includes the full complement of winds, brass and timpani. It has an entirely different sound-world to either the quartet or the Mahler arrangement, much more beefy, muscular and, at times, sinister. Stein says he was trying 'to create a late classical/early Romantic symphony' out of the quartet and in this he broadly succeeds. The snarling winds enrich the all-important strings. The timpani are sparingly but effectively used, and the final cadence is quite shattering.

At the Naxos price you can afford to experiment a bit, and the performance of Death and the Maiden is good enough to justify the outlay. It’s a shame it wasn’t coupled with something more worthwhile, however.

Simon Thompson


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