Partnering two incomplete symphonies at Poole’s Lighthouse made strong, thematic sense. It also served to illuminate the stylistic distance separating Schubert and Bruckner whose lives bookended the 19th century and provided the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra programme’s strap line ‘Romantic Start to Finish’.

Ion Marin
© Courtesy of the BSO

Under the baton of Romanian-born Ion Marin, things got off to a ponderous start in Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony. There is, of course, some degree of interpretation within the meaning of Allegro moderato, but the emphasis given here on the moderato robbed the music of momentum and the chosen tempo became dangerously close to tedioso assai. Tempo as slow as this might have worked, but a conductor needs to give scrupulous devotion to articulation and phrasing, and the playing itself needs to seize attention with its sheer beauty, especially if a performance is to last nearly thirty minutes. Yet the account wasn’t without drama, and from the outset, cellos responded keenly to their baleful opening phrase – its ominous mood intensified by a tiny pause before violins and elegant woodwind temporarily banished the gloom. But pauses, slight rallentandos, and an interminably long chord from horn and bassoon before the secondary theme brought enervation rather invigoration. Titanic chords and tensile strings rocked the development, with Marin fully underlining the work’s tragic overtones.

Dreamy introspection and tempestuousness brought sharp contrasts to the second movement, but Marin’s sectionalised approach didn’t always cohere and in one passage, where the music virtually ground to a halt, the intended musing lost any sense of direction. It’s not so unusual an interpretation, but despite the orchestra’s best efforts and its evident musicality this was a plodding rendition.

No satisfactory reason accounts for the symphony’s incomplete form although, paradoxically, the work we know as Schubert’s “Unfinished” is more complete than other aborted efforts he made in the medium. While several scholarly versions exist for a finale to Bruckner’s Symphony no. 9 in D minor the work is most often performed in three movements (as it was here) and, like Schubert’s symphony, its unfinished structure feels complete.

Certainly, this performance (using the Haas edition) had a sure sense of direction, Marin integrating the first movement’s changing moods, colours and tempi into a well-judged narrative. Notwithstanding only a casual nod towards misterioso at the start, it unfolded with surefooted control, with a commendable warmth of expression from all quarters. Resplendent brass, songful woodwind and impassioned strings collectively energised the movement’s grandeur and intimacy.

Impish violins, as if drawn from one of Grimms’ fairy tales, and pounding brass brought Gothic horror to the Scherzo (once described by Robert Simpson as “giants' music”) before thunderous gestures made way for captivating woodwind contributions. These continued in the atmospheric Trio, (not quite as Schnell here as Bruckner specified) where elfin-like flute and will-o-the-wisp strings brought Mendelssohnian charm.

There followed an Adagio of expressive solemnity; its expansive progress enriched by well-shaped melodic outlines and subtle contrast of timbre – soulful strings, questing trumpet fanfares and four mournful Wagner tubas. An intensely wrought coda brought the evening to a profound close, its sustained final chord wonderfully encapsulating the work’s dramatic vistas and solemnity.