Saturday, December 29, 2007

Some notes about "completions" of Franz Schubert's works

Recently, I replayed a few CD’s of the controversial “completions” of Franz Schubert’s symphonies, and I think they have a lot to recommend.

First, the most familiar controversy concerns the formal Symphony #8, the Unfinished. (In the old days of LP record collecting, how many LP’s were there that paired the Beethoven Fifth with the Schubert unfinished?) I think that the “completion,” by Brian Newbould, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner (the Academy of St. Martins in the Fields) on Philips actually works. The last two movements remain in B minor, which was a difficult key to orchestra until Tchaikovsky (and maybe Borodin). The finale is based on the Rosamunde Enre’acte, but the lively piece it actually works. I don’t like letting the final chord dissolve into pianissimo, however.

The Symphony #7 in the “courtly” key of E Major, D. 729, was complete as a piano score and Schubert started the orchestration. I have the Koch CD with the Brian Newbould orchestration and Gabriel Chumra conducting the Radio Symphony of Berlin. It sounds a little bit straight-jacked, and is closer to the world of the 5th and 6th than the 8th and “Great” C Major. There are, however, plenty of bumpkin-like harmonic modulations. (The 4th, in C Minor, the “Tragic”, has always worked for me and is an interesting work to compare to Beethoven’s famous work in the same key; Schubert arrives at triumph with a lot more subtlety in the same key.)

The Symphony #10 in D (D. 936) was also “completed” by Newbould as a three movement work. Belgian conductor Pierre Bartholome modified the score, making it bolder, and added a separate scherzo that fits well. The result (on the Ricercar label 023003, which I got in the mail from Records International in the late 1980s; the performance was recorded in 1983) is a most promising work. The first movement, Allegro Maestoso, is in the grand style of the Great and almost anticipates Bruckner (like a Bruckner Symphony -2, if the F minor is -1 and the D minor is 0). True, the development section is minimal (more like a slow middle section), but the Coda is like a second development and is rather Eroica Beethoven-like (this could have something to do with Bartholome) and the conclusion is brazen (indeed anticipating Bruckner). The B minor slow movement builds a Wunderhorn mood that anticipates the slow movement of Mahler’s First, although it has some of the harmonic mannerisms from the slow movement of the Unfinished (which, by the way, is taken too fast by most conductors). The added scherzo is athletic, and the finale sounds a little bit like a relaxing reprise, but again builds up at the very end.

The Piano Grand Duo (D 812) in C, a mature work in his late style, was orchestrated as the so-called "Gastein" Symphony", by Joseph Joachim and others.

Although Schubert (except for a cello piece) wrote almost no concertos, the Liszt orchestration of his C-major Fantasy is most effective and is effectively a Liszt-style piano concerto with sections played without pause, ending in grandiose C major. The piano solo original stretches the sonorous limits of the instrument, especially at the conclusion.

The epic film “Sunshine,” directed by Istvan Szabo and released by Paramount Classics in 2000, built a music score (adapted by Maurice Jarre) from Schubert’s Fantasy in F Minor for two pianos, with great effect. Schubert's famous D minor quartet generates a political thriller set in South America, made in the 90s, "Death and the Maiden," directed by Roman Polanski, from Fine Line Features, and the character Paulina Escobar played by Sigourney Weaver makes an interesting comment about Schubert.

There are other important completions. Giacomo Puccini ‘s last opera Turandot was “completed” by Franco Alfano, and the thrilling choral conclusion recalls the end of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand.” Mahler’s Symphony #10 in F-sharp, although essentially complete as a sketch, was orchestrated by Deryck Cooke, and Eugene Ormandy made one of the first recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1960s, on Columbia, with a “Philadelphia” sound that helped make Columbia an industry leader in pre-CD vinyl days.

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