Mozart's Requiem, Turandot, Lulu, Elgar's Third Symphony, Bruckner's Ninth, Mahler's Tenth. Classical music is not short of incomplete works, but only Schubert's Eighth Symphony is popularly known as "The Unfinished". Since its posthumous premiere, scholars have worried over this perfect half-symphony, grafting extracts from Rosamunde to make it fit the standard symphonic mould. But where Mozart, Puccini, Berg, Elgar, Bruckner and Mahler died pen in hand, Schubert had abandoned his sketches for a third movement six years before his death, turning instead to chamber music and song to reiterate the despair at the heart of the first two movements, and writing a Ninth Symphony as merry as its predecessor is sorrowful.
Though the sketches prove that Schubert at one time intended to write more, his abandonment of the scherzo after only two pages of orchestration indicates dissatisfaction with the material and its compatibility with the two movements he had already completed. Undeterred, composer Anton Safranov has used this as a model for a new realisation of the third movement, and fashioned a patchwork of sighing rhythmic motifs from the symphony's first movement and material from the Marches Héroïques and the unfinished Piano Sonata in F sharp minor as a fourth.
Performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Vladimir Jurowski as part of the ensemble's Revolution series, Safronov's scherzo seemed closer in the weight and tang of its instrumentation to Glinka. At least Glinka was a near-contemporary of Schubert's. Heard blind, I would have been hard pushed to guess which decade between 1840 and 1880 the finale came from, let alone which country, so heavy was the scent of crackle-glaze and cold tea on its carefully distressed surface. Were the OAE similarly unconvinced by Dr Safronov's gentle monster? If so, their disenchantment seeped into Weber's Freischütz Overture and bled into Brahms's First Piano Concerto, where Stephen Hough's incendiary performance on a rebellious Centennial D Steinway was rewarded with sloppy string entries and uniform pounding of the first beat of every bar.
With the exception of Anthony Pay's sublime clarinet solos, the consistently interesting bloom of the flutes, oboes and bassoons, and some vivacious work from the young double-bassists, this was a diffident performance: all lilt and no line, sullen rather than despairing, uncommitted, unexcited, and wantonly inattentive to the phrasing of the leader, Margaret Faultless, who was doing her best to form a persuasive argument from Jurowski's dot-to-dot contribution. Surely there's more to historically informed performance than generic feminine endings and a terror of rubato? Or are Schubert, Brahms and Weber less deserving of the specificity of timbre and style this orchestra accords to Purcell and Vivaldi? The OAE may have cornered the local period instruments market from Monteverdi to Mahler, but on this showing they are inferior to the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées in 19th-century repertoire.
Music Theatre Wales's touring production of Philippe Boesmans's Julie marks a belated British stage debut for Belgium's grand old man of opera. Crisply conducted by Michael Rafferty, MTW's staging does much to provoke admiration for Boesmans's icily beautiful, succinct score but little to generate interest in Luc Bondy's libretto. In the title role, Arlene Rolph works her bodice off in an attempt to flesh out Strindberg's "man-hating half-woman", while Emma Gane is saddled with the role of her dowdy opposite. The stand-out performance comes from Andrew Rupp as Jean. Nonetheless, I was counting the minutes till the canary's decapitation.
'Julie', Gala Theatre, Durham (0191 332 4041), 22 November, then touringReuse content