Schubert – The Finished Unfinished – Basel Chamber Orchestra/Mario Venzago [Sony Classical]

3 of 5 stars

Symphony No.8 in B-minor, D759 (Unfinished) – Movements III & IV reconstructed & completed by Mario Venzago

Kammerorchester Basel
Mario Venzago

Recorded 4 March 2016 in the Musiksaal, Casino Basel, Switzerland

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: November 2017
Duration: 43 minutes



In a ten-page essay for the booklet, Mario Venzago gives a detailed account of the methods he used in his completion of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony. He quotes contemporary documentation to support his conviction that the missing two movements were lost because the Finale of the completed B-minor Symphony needed to be borrowed in order to provide an entr’acte for music for the play Rosamunde. It is suggested that this movement was detached from the symphonic score together with all but the first page of the Scherzo and that these pages were never reunited with the first two movements. Others have used it as a Finale – unconvincing because it sounds like incidental music and is not constructed in symphonic form. Venzago suggests that the original movement had been adjusted for the sake of providing music for the theatre and he says that the music “can be restored to its original symphonic form” and he attempts to do this in order to provide a satisfactory Finale.

Reconstruction of the Scherzo is simpler because the first twenty bars are fully scored by Schubert. Given this evidence of intended orchestration, it is not too great a problem to use a similar style to complete the music up until the trio. Thereafter, sketches can be found for a following melody and decisions must then be made in order to reconstruct the music until the Scherzo returns.

This performance is notable for swiftness in the opening movement – at less than twelve minutes (including the exposition repeat) it is faster than the tempo usually favoured. Venzago is adamant that this Allegro moderato should not linger lest the work might appear to commence with two slow movements. Here, his eager approach ensures that underlying tension is always evident although the second subject does not sustain the pace. A feature of Venzago’s reading is the strong contrast allotted to most forte passages; in the Andante con moto he tends to move the louder sequences forward.

The Scherzo starts with conviction and the not-orchestrated section that is only available in short score sounds exactly as Schubert may well have intended. The first part of the Trio is Schubert’s melody but during the formal repeat, Venzago changes three seconds of music into the minor key. The second part of the Trio has to be based on conjecture but it proceeds successfully until the point where the main theme would normally return – here there is a surprise: a completely unrelated bassoon-led tune now arrives, far slower in tempo and different in rhythm. It wanders along for two minutes getting slower still before the Scherzo returns. That it is Schubert’s own theme (borrowed from another Rosamunde movement) is no compensation for this strange divergence from Scherzo form.

Venzago’s notion of rearranging the Rosamunde entr’acte into a more conventional symphonic shape is designed to make it a more convincing Finale. The four-bar repetition during the coda certainly makes for a grander conclusion and there is a recapitulation which arrives in the right key and in the right place but time and again there are rallentandos, and also many subsidiary melodies are played far slower. Schubert never did such things in his other Symphonies and the addition of the first movement’s opening theme before the coda sounds quaint. In all, this music seems to be portraying an unseen drama but it does not really make a Finale.

If investigating this challenging release, do be sure to read Venzago’s fascinating and tremendously informative introduction to the reconstruction.

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