New Classical Tracks: Schubert revisited

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
September 14, 2009

St. Paul, Minn. — Since becoming the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic 10 years ago, JoAnn Falletta has gained a reputation for conducting artistically important, rarely heard works -- including, soon, a multi-year recording project of works by Austrian composer and Holocaust victim Marcel Tyberg.

Their newest recording also takes the listener into unfamiliar musical ground, as they explore an orchestral adaptation of Schubert's well-known string quartet, "Death and the Maiden," and a new finished vision of the composer's "Unfinished" Symphony.

Andy Stein created this adaptation of one of Schubert's best-known chamber works, a string quartet based on his song, "Death and the Maiden." The story is an old European myth where Death demands to spend a night with a bride-to-be. If she refuses, her fiance will die on their wedding day.

This classic quartet is really more a tone poem as it paints this dramatic story. For the symphonic version, Andy Stein sticks with the composer's original key of D minor, which Schubert often used to express dark, shadowy themes.

In the opening movement, Death makes its harsh proposition. The drama is intensified by Stein's use of four French horns, the same choice made by Schubert for his "Tragic" Symphony No. 4 in C minor.

"I have tried to create a late classical/early Romantic symphony out of this great chamber work," Andy Stein said, "so that it perhaps would sound as if Schubert himself had conceived it in this form."

A haunting pulse signifies the death chant in the second movement, marked Andante con moto. Five variations are heard in the key of G minor. Not until the fourth variation do we hear a key change to G major, which quickly reverts back to its gloomy mood.

Gustav Mahler arranged this string quartet for string orchestra in 1901. Andy Stein's arrangement is radically different from that rendition as he makes use of the customary woodwind section, with four horns, two trumpets and timpani, as well as strings. The flute, clarinet and cello solos in this movement demonstrate that the members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra are also fine solo artists.

It was not uncommon for composers of earlier centuries to create different arrangements of their works. I think Schubert would be quite pleased with what Andy Stein, JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra have done to bring this new adaptation to life.

Franz Schubert died at age 31. A mystery has shrouded his "Unfinished" Symphony, No. 8 in B Minor, ever since. Research has shed new light on the composer's intentions for a third and fourth movement for this symphony.

We now know Schubert had fully sketched the third movement for piano. He also wrote 20 measures for full orchestra. Using these newly discovered materials, British scholar Brian Newbould, who for many years served as president of the Schubert Institute, completed the energetic Scherzo.

The source for the last movement is the incidental music Schubert wrote for the play, "Rosamunde, Princess of Cypress." It's thought that Schubert, who was desperate for money, set aside his "Unfinished" symphony to compose music for the play.

Scholars now believe the "Entr'acte" in "Rosamunde," was originally intended as the finale to the "Unfinished" symphony. Swiss conductor Mario Venzago reworked segments from "Rosamunde" to create the electrifying final movement heard here.

When I see JoAnn Falletta's name on a new recording I immediately gravitate toward it. I know it will be a high quality performance, with carefully chosen repertoire that will probably introduce me to music that's new and worthwhile.

JoAnn Falletta is a tastemaker, and her new recording of these expanded versions of two of Schubert's great masterpieces is another special treat music lovers will want to add to their music collection.


Schubert's Death and the Maiden and Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished) - JoAnn Falletta: Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (Naxos 8.572051)

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