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Beethoven for Three (Symphonies Nos 2 & 5)

Leonidas Kavikos (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Emanuel Ax (piano) (Sony Classical)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphonies Nos 2 (arr. Ries) & 5 (arr. C Matthews)
Leonidas Kavikos (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Emanuel Ax (piano)
Sony Classical 19439940142   68:45 mins

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This is the second recording from a superstar trio whose individual players have already notched up a fair few Beethoven discs. But here are pieces usually out of soloists’ reach, performed in arrangments for piano trio.

Symphony No. 2 is played in an arrangement by one of Beethoven’s own pupils, Ferdinand Ries. If Liszt turned the piano into an orchestra with his arrangement of this piece, Ries opts for the opposite tack. His scaled-back symphony is pure chamber music, and the trio play it as such. The ensemble sounds as one: supple, elegant – and, dare I say it, ever so slightly bland.

For playing that honours Beethoven’s radical quality, listen to this performance of Colin Matthews’ fresh and unexpected arrangement of the Fifth. A gifted orchestrator, here Matthews performs the magic trick in reverse. His gift is that while he gets right into the voice of a composer, neither diminishing nor diluting it, his versions are yet somehow tinged with his own individual twist – you can hear it in the way he uses one of the instruments to double another, just for an instant, or how a melody seamlessly glides between violin and cello. This is a Beethoven Five to return to and savour.

Rebecca Franks

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