The results are usually inconclusive, but "What if?" is a harmless intellectual game often played by music mavens. You know, what if Mozart had lived beyond 35? What other masterpieces would Gershwin's exploding genius have produced if it hadn't been snuffed out at age 38?
This weekend's concerts by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra probably were not conceived by JoAnn Falletta in that light, but they could be additionally considered to be examples of the "What if?" game as applied to Schubert, who died at 31.
Schubert's ubiquitous "Unfinished" symphony consists of only two movements. He left some sketches for a Scherzo but not a clue as to what he may have had in mind for a Finale. One common theory is that Schubert realized that his first two movements were close to perfection and felt he might not sustain that level, so he quit while he was ahead.
Audiences at this weekend's performances, which are being recorded for future release by the Naxos label, will hear a speculative "Finished" version of this great symphony. The first two movements are a ceaseless flow of lovely melody by a composer whose imagination was in overdrive. He knew he was getting everything right, so despite moments of stress and turmoil, the overriding feeling of the music is one of repose. Beginning with a wonderfully resonant statement in the low strings, Falletta's performance fully captured that sense of repose.
English musicologist Brian Newbould extrapolated Schubert's sketches and completed the missing Scherzo in which a brusque brass idea leads to positive, outgoing music that proceeds with a very Schubertian assurance, and seems in spiritual harmony with the first two movements.
Swiss conductor Mario Venzago has provided a Finale, assembled from an Entr'acte and some ballet music from the Ballet "Rosamunde," written by Schubert simultaneously with the "Unfinished." Although it certainly has the Schubertian flavor, this music is almost martial in character and seems to take off in a different direction from the rest of the symphony. There are two other Entr'actes in "Rosamunde" that might have better confirmed the aura of repose that Schubert had established, despite the unifying reference to the symphony's opening measures that Venzago subtly injects.
The nicely balanced concert concludes with American composer/arranger Andy Stein's transcription for full orchestra of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" String Quartet. Although Stein's inside writing for woodwinds is very felicitous in the first movement, and he supplies some truly exquisite moments in the slow movement's quieter contemplations, there is also an increase in brightness and stridency that works against the darkness of the string quartet original.
In the Scherzo and concluding Presto, however, Stein's ensemble writing is tighter and more cohesive, with continued outstanding woodwind scoring. The Presto's galloping rhythms make string articulation difficult, but Falletta and the BPO strings were together all the way, including a very satisfying traversal of the exciting final accelerando.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
"Schubert's Unfinished" with conductor JoAnn Falletta on Friday in Kleinhans Music Hall. Additional performances at 8 p. m. today and 2: 30 p. m. Sunday.
For more information, call 885- 5000 or visit www.bpo.org.