Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Howard Goldstein
BBC Music Magazine, November 2009


Full-scale Schubert

According to his website, Andy Stein has a ‘checkered past’ that includes rock, jazz, and playing in the house band for the popular radio show Prairie Home Companion. Nevertheless, Stein’s orchestration of Schubert’s most popular string quartet, using the same forces as his Fourth Symphony, is utterly convincing both stylistically and emotionally. The menacing horns pounding out the rhythm at the end of the first movement, the dark scoring for winds and pizzicato strings at the beginning of the slow movement, and the wind band setting of the third movement trios are a few examples of Stein’s empathetic gifts. JoAnn Faletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic give their all, especially the strings: the demonic whirlwind of the last movement tarantella is as colorful and vigorous as the finest quartet performance.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, September 2009

Naxos does a splendid job recording the Buffalo Philharmonic, which Ms Falletta conducts with appropriate vim and vigor. The sound is very clean and open, with a fine, smooth response, a wide orchestral spread, and a decent dynamic thrust…these adaptations and continuations stand on their own, not as historical pieces of music, naturally, but as pure entertainment.

Julie Amacher
Minnesota Public Radio, September 2009

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.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, August 2009

Leave it to the enterprising folks at Naxos to come up with this excellent concept album. This arrangement of Schubert’s seminal and convulsively dramatic quartet based on his song ‘Death and the Maiden’ is not the same as Gustav Mahler’s string quartet version. This one has been done for full orchestra, and by and large it is enormously successful. Mr. Stein has a fine sense of Schubertian orchestral style and technique, and one is hard pressed to not hear this piece as being scored by the master…a fine effort and I am glad to have heard this.

The completion of Schubert’s famous “Unfinished” is the one by Brain Newbould. Many historians think that Schubert did indeed intend to complete this work—despite a hundred years of justifying its two-movement structure—because the composer became ill and had started 20-odd scored measures of a scherzo. Newbould completes this movement in fine fashion, though I doubt anyone would suggest that this effort in any way surpasses what the composer would have done. The last movement is taken from the Entr’acte from the incidental music for Rosamunde, something some scholars think may have been intended as the finale for this symphony—though this remains speculative—as the music was written right after Schubert set aside the work, and is also in B-minor…Falletta is a superb conductor on any front, and Naxos has captured the BPO’s sound very well in an upfront and vivid recording. Recommended for creative programming and excellent performances.

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, July 2009

Whatever one may think of “finishing” the Unfinished Symphony, it cannot be denied that the very fact that the symphony is unfinished remains a tantalizing musical mystery. After all, as the Naxos notes remind us, Schubert went on to write the Great C-major Symphony (9) six years later, and perhaps more besides: you’ll find a “Tenth Symphony” in our Index along with several recordings of the much disputed Gastein Symphony—by most accounts merely a reworking by Joseph Joachim of the Grand Duo for piano four hands. Some think illness prevented Schubert from completing the B-minor Symphony; others say the rest of the score was lost. But I remain enough of a romantic to believe Schubert set aside his sketches because he knew in his heart that the symphony was perfect just as it stood…Whether merely reflecting her overall concept of the music or deemed necessary as a means of fitting all four movements on the disc together with the Quartet, JoAnn Falletta forges ahead right from the start, though the familiar swaying melody has an infectious lilt to it. She unleashes a veritable tempest in the development with great stark pronouncements by the trombones. The Andante is songful and flows wonderfully well (listen to the yearning clarinet at 2:09f)…Surely even Schubert never dreamed of setting his great D-minor Quartet, Death and the Maiden, for orchestra. This is not the arrangement for string orchestra by Gustav Mahler that has been recorded many times, but boasts a full complement of winds, horns, trumpets, and timpani as put together by the American composer and arranger Andy Stein—though he omits the trombones, using as his model Schubert’s Tragic Symphony (4). Stein writes, “I have tried to create a late classical- early romantic symphony out of this great chamber work, so that it perhaps would sound as if Schubert himself had conceived it in this form.” Sitting there surrounded by the full force of the orchestra intoning Schubert’s most intimate melodies, I cannot help but harken back to my colleague Gerald Fox, who on reviewing the Mahler setting (May/June 2006) admitted that “purists who think that arranging a string quartet for string orchestra is an abomination will probably read no further”.

I may well be biased by coming to this music from the world of the orchestra rather than the recital hall. But there’s no question the wide range of colors often works to the benefit of the music, most of all in the soulful and expressive Andante; the robust stride of the Scherzo as heard here suggests any number of Beethoven models, while the pointed Rondo-Finale, which the notes tell us “takes to the wind as a classic tarantella”, here bears an unmistakable resemblance to Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. Certainly the Buffalo players make as compelling a case for the orchestral arrangement as you could wish, and I’m pleased to set it alongside Joachim’s Gastein on my shelf.

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, June 2009

Naxos brings us two ‘new’ symphonic works by Schubert: a transcription of a major chamber work and another attempt to solve the enigma of the Unfinished Symphony.

American musician Andy Stein’s full orchestration of the Death and the Maiden string quartet is quite striking and works extremely well, supporting his view that the quartet is arguably Schubert’s greatest large-scale composition, and successfully realizes his desire to create a late Classical/early Romantic symphony out of it. The instrumental scoring is idiomatic and highly effective, and there is excellent balance and contrast between the strings, brass and woodwind.

Less successful—or, at least, less satisfying—is the completed version of the Unfinished Symphony, perhaps because our familiarity with the original makes it virtually impossible to listen objectively to any additions. Over the past 140 years there have been countless attempts to complete the work. This version has a reconstruction of the Scherzo—based on Schubert’s own sketches—by the English Schubert scholar Brian Newbould, together with a Finale assembled by the Swiss conductor Mario Venzago which combines extracts from Schubert’s Rosamunde incidental music with the same work’s Entr’acte, which some historians believe may have been intended as the original Finale for the symphony. It’s an impressive and credible attempt at doing the impossible perhaps, but fails to address the fundamental question with projects like this—“Why even try?”

Apparently recorded live in concert, the BPO and Falletta deliver performances full of passion and conviction.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, June 2009

Brian Newbould’s sensitive completion of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in four movements has been recorded several times before, but here it comes generously coupled with a bold orchestration of the Death and the Maiden Quartet, quite different from the adaptation for strings made by Mahler. Newbould has used the fragment of a third-movement Scherzo that Schubert left, and added various related fragments from other sources. For the finale, like others attempting a completion he chooses the B minor Entr’acte from the Rosamunde music, which is just about viable.

JoAnn Falleta draws polished playing from the Buffalo Philharmonic, specially impressive for wind solos, but this is an account of the first movements that lacks the mystery that this B minor work can regularly conjure up, admirable as the playing is. When it comes to the added movements, it has to be admitted that they do not match very happily. The result is a fascinating exercise without being a work that deserves to be brought into the regular repertory. The Unfinished as it stands certainly wins the test of time.

Listening to the genuine Schubert of those two first movements after the Death and the Maiden orchestration brings home the difference between real and imitation Schubert. The orchestration of Andy Stem is vigorous and is convincingly played, but it is coarse next to the symphony. The use of woodwind solos is not always successful, and the device of using different wind sections in a block Brucknerian way is hardly convincing. Yet, as I say, it makes for a lively experience, and provides a generous coupling for the completed Symphony No 8. Good, clean sound.

Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, May 2009

I really liked the arrangement of Death and the Maiden. This work still exerts a perennial fascination, having attracted a famous arrangement from Mahler. Arrangers are still entranced by it today. Andy Stein’s edition is very different from Mahler’s though: Mahler only expanded the string forces to fit a chamber orchestra, but Stein includes the full complement of winds, brass and timpani. It has an entirely different sound-world to either the quartet or the Mahler arrangement, much more beefy, muscular and, at times, sinister. Stein says he was trying ‘to create a late classical/early Romantic symphony’ out of the quartet and in this he broadly succeeds. The snarling winds enrich the all-important strings. The timpani are sparingly but effectively used, and the final cadence is quite shattering.

At the Naxos price you can afford to experiment a bit, and the performance of Death and the Maiden is good enough to justify the outlay.

Phil Muse
Atlanta Audio Society, May 2009

For a new look at two masterpieces by Franz Schubert, may I recommend the composer’s Death and the Maiden string quartet, adapted as a fully orchestrated symphony by Andy Stein, and his “Unfinished” Symphony in B Minor as completed by Brian Newbould and Mario Venzago. Both are performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta. And both performances are so superbly accomplished that the home listener has sufficient evidence to judge for himself whether or not these exercises in “Schubert Re-written” are valid.

My money is on Death and the Maiden, adapted here as a Symphony in D Minor. There are no gimmicks in Stein’s orchestration. He uses a standard woodwind octet with four horns, two trumpets and tympani in ways that enhance the music on the symphonic plane, much as a master orchestrator of Schubert’s era, say Felix Mendelssohn, might have done. In particular, he frequently uses the flutes to parallel the strings in the melodic passages, and he employs  brass and percussion sparingly but with great effect in the climactic moment near the end of the second movement, an Andante con moto in the form of a theme-and-variations. Here the music swells to greater intensity as it reaches a triumphant G Major. We hear the brass again used to good effect in the peroration just prior to the splendid fugal passage that begins the thrilling Pesto conclusion to the final movement. The strings carry the burden throughout, as they should do in a symphony adapted from a string quartet, with the winds adding distinctive color, as in the imitation post-horn calls that we hear at critical moments in the Andante.

I’m less sanguine about the completion of the “Unfinished” Symphony, which I’ve always regarded as one of music’s most completely satisfying experiences in the form of the two movements we usually hear. That’s because the two compliment each other perfectly, the Andante attempting to answer the deep, emotionally charged questions posed by the opening Allegro movement. It does not answer them completely, of course, because the great questions of life, such as why pain and suffering could conceivably exist in any sort of divine plan, are really unanswerable. But the struggle (note the striking mid-movement forte in the Andante) is a noble one, and Schubert provides some measure of solace at the end, even if it is peace bought by the emotional exhaustion of the struggle.

At this point, you could make a good case that Schubert has already said all there was to say and that the “Unfinished” Symphony was in fact complete. But Newbould goes on to build a Scherzo from fragments in Schubert’s notebooks (consisting of piano sketches and some 20 measures in full score) and Venzago adds his edited version of the well known Entr’acte No. 1 from the composer’s Incidental Music to Rosamunde for a finale. All of which provides a plausible “completion” of the work as a standard classical symphony in four movements, if that is what one really wants. Perhaps the most most revealing clue to the mystery is Schubert’s own disinclination to complete the symphony as such even though he wrote it as we now know it in 1822 and enjoyed six more years of reasonably good health before he experienced a disastrous decline in the last summer of his life.

If what you really want is the “Unfinished” Symphony as we usually hear it, you can always use your remote to click off at the end of Track 6. You will not be disappointed with this account, as JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo keep things moving right along in a taut, exciting performance that compares well with the best accounts on record. The Allegro and the Andante together clock in at a combined 21:00, which is among the briefest on record. But Falletta’s pacing is so expert that we have no impression anywhere of undue haste, and she broadens the tempo for expressive purposes at all the right places. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to hear this conductor and orchestra, and it whetted my appetite to hear more of them in the future.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, April 2009

It's almost impossible to describe these two masterpieces as 'favourites' since most of this composer's melodic outpourings are beloved. Moreover, Schubert's works were conceived in forms that invite orchestration, as evidenced by the large number of such arrangements in the repertoire. Mahler's arrangement of "Death and the Maiden' for strings worked well, naturally, but the multi-talented Andy Stein's full orchestral treatment is even better. Brian Newbould's third movement (Scherzo) is based on fragments from Schubert's own notes, and the fourth movement (Allegro molto moderato) is derived from 'Rosamunde'. It all fits nicely into the splendid and spirited performances by the Buffalo Phliharmonic and its very talented conductor JoAnn Falletta. the audio quality could not be better!

David Hurwitz, April 2009

The principal attraction of this release lies in Andy Stein’s arrangement of “Death and the Maiden” for full orchestra (as opposed to, say, Mahler’s transcription for string orchestra). He does a creditable job: the very opening sounds great as an angry tutti, and the Andante benefits from the additional color the full orchestra supplies.

James Leonard, April 2009

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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

You will have to stretch your musical credibility to accept the reasoning behind these two Schubert hybrids. Exactly why Schubert failed to complete his Eighth symphony has long puzzled historians, and the fact that there exists a fragment of a third movement shows that he broke off the composition for some inexplicable reason. The English authority on Schubert, Brian Newbold, took this sketch and completed the movement, but I have always been of the opinion that the thematic material was so poor it may well have been the reason Schubert never progressed further, though he may have resumed work had life not proved so short. The present disc then advances the thoughts of the Swiss conductor, Mario Venzago, who uses the first Entr’acte from Schubert’s incidental music to the play Rosamunde, Princess of Cypress to provide a finale. Arguments for its use are here seriously offered in the accompanying booklet, but I find them amusing. I have more attraction to the work of the American composer and arranger, Andy Stein, who unleashes full orchestral forces in his arrangement of the ‘Death and the Maiden’ string quartet. I enjoy its as a piece of Schubert pastiche, timpani hammering home key passages, woodwind decorating, horns reinforcing texture, and strings carrying the thrust of the thematic material. The slow movement sounds overblown, but the outer movements respond well to the added weight.The result would just about pass as a Schubert score to the innocent ear. That the outstanding Buffalo Philharmonic and their charismatic conductor, JoAnn Falletta, believe in this whole concept of the disc is never in doubt. There is much attractive playing in ‘Death and the Maiden’,while the quick and free-flowing account of the two familiar movements from the ‘Unfinshed’ stand among the best in the CD catalogue. An oddity in exemplary sound quality.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group