SCHUBERT ‘The Finished “Unfinished”’: Symphony No 8, D759 (reconstr Venzago)
Mario Venzago explains that nobody knows why Schubert left the Unfinished unfinished. In fact, in the booklet, he persuasively expounds his theory that the work was finished but, pressed for time when an urgent ballet commission came his way, the composer requested the return of the finale to be pressed into use; that most of the Scherzo was sent as well and was subsequently lost is unfortunate, although the manuscript of the familiar torso ends with the first page of the third movement in fair copy. Venzago has reconstructed, from piano sketches, the Scherzo with two Trios and rescued the finale from the Rosamunde ballet music to reconstitute the four-movement symphony at least in its dimensions, if not fully in detail.
Thus the balance of the work is altered. Venzago deplores the tradition of performing it as two slow movements and accordingly takes the opening Allegro moderato faster than is often the case – only slightly slower, in fact, than he would take the first movement of the Eroica, with one rather than three beats in the bar. That’s fair enough; and it’s a fine performance (live last year) on its own terms – one that put me in mind of Thomas Dausgaard’s Swedish CO recording (BIS, 8/10), on which the playing time of this opening movement is even faster.
Dausgaard, though, didn’t have to balance the Allegro moderato as part of a four-part structure, although his near-gallop through it enabled him to squeeze the Eighth and Ninth on the same disc. Venzago offers a compelling reason for this tempo and backs it up with sound reasoning. He makes it a valid exercise.
As is the projection of the third and fourth movements. Venzago considers the finale ‘the most exciting in the whole symphony’; to me it seems a little foursquare in its material but that might be as much due to unfamiliarity with it as anything else. At a little over 43 minutes the disc is short measure: the concert opened with an overture and contained two orchestral Schubert songs and two Mozart arias with Regula Mühlemann; one regrets the omission of one or more of these.