Music-making of great warmth from long-standing friends

Leonidas Kavakos, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax: Beethoven

The Strad Issue: May 2024

Description: Music-making of great warmth from long-standing friends

Musicians: Leonidas Kavakos (violin) Yo-Yo Ma (cello) Emanuel Ax (piano)

Works: Beethoven: Piano Trio no.7 ‘Archduke’; Symphony no.4 (arr.Shai Wosner)

Catalogue number: SONY CLASSICAL 19658881642

The Kavakos–Ma–Ax supergroup continues its ‘Beethoven for Three’ series with an expansive, relaxed reading of the ‘Archduke’ and a truly exciting trio transmogrification of the Fourth Symphony. It’s all too easy to question the need for such slimmed-down arrangements nowadays, when the full-fat original can be heard at the click of a button, but what is revealed here is the musculature of the music – the way in which voices act and react against each other, intertwining lines lending the symphony a tensile strength that far transcends mere orchestral heft. Indeed, there are moments such as the opening movement’s second subject or much of the ensuing Adagio that sound uncannily as if they could have been intended all along for the combination of violin, cello and piano, and that’s down as much to Beethoven’s contrapuntal instinct as it is to the mastery of Shai Wosner’s ingenious transformation.

The sense of expectation in that breathtaking slow introduction feeds inexorably into the motoric exhilaration of the Allegro, which is itself reflected in the sinuous vitality of the Scherzo. The finale is a touch more light-hearted than the fierce dash it can sometimes become in its orchestral garb, but there are moments in the repartee that bring it close to the conversational sound-world of the ‘Archduke’.

Ah, the ‘Archduke’. In contrast to the symphony, this is a reading that is content simply to unfold without being at all pushed. After all, these musicians have been making music together for many years and their rapport is evident in the naturalness of the exchanges between them. There are more driven and driving ‘Archdukes’ to be had – the Wanderer for one – but this reading transmits in spades the sheer pleasure of three virtuosos with nothing left to prove simply playing together: surely the holy grail of chamber music making.