JoAnn Falletta / Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Schubert: Death and the Maiden; Symphony No. 8 'Unfinished'

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This enterprising and entertaining disc by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra features familiar works in unusual settings: Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet adapted for full orchestra by Andy Stein and his "Unfinished" Symphony completed by Brian Newbould and Mario Venzago. The former may take some getting used to due to the sudden wealth of instrumental color. The opening Allegro starts with the whole orchestra taking the first theme, follows that with the woodwinds alternating with strings the second theme, and the strings taking the third theme fugato with comments from the brass, and so on. Nothing in Stein's adaptation goes beyond what Schubert himself might have done had he conceived the quartet as a symphony, and his work is at least as effective as Mahler's adaptation of the quartet for string orchestra, whether or not one is convinced of the need for either. The completion of the "Unfinished" Symphony will be unknown to all but ardent Schubert aficionados. The Scherzo is a projection from sketches left by the composer, while the finale is an arrangement of the first Entr'acte from the composer's incidental music for Rosamunde. This makes the completed symphony more or less authentically Schubertian, but neither of the last two movements is in the same league as the first two movements, offering only the opportunity to hear the familiar first two movements in a different context that may or may not add any value depending on one's viewpoint. The difference in quality between the two halves of the work will be readily apparent to an attentive listener, regardless.

As for the performances by Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic, they are strong-willed and dedicated. Falletta holds the music and orchestra together with a clean technique and a keen understanding, and the Buffalo musicians respond with energy and enthusiasm. Naxos' rich, warm digital sound flatters them.

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