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Chamber Music, Music Media Review Print

Beethoven Symphonies in Chamber Format for Spring

March 22, 2022 - Easthampton, MA:

Ludwig van Beethoven, Beethoven for Three, Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5; Emanuel Ax, piano (likely Steinway), Leonidas Kavakos, violin, Yo-Yo Ma, 'cello; SONY 19439943142, © 2022,TT: 68:45, $11.95 via Amazon.

A welcome and wonderful return on the first day of Spring to the 19th century in the 21st, after the two-year long pandemic! The arrangements date from both: No. 2 was done by Ferdinand Ries in 1805, under the supervision of the composer: he was his secretary; No. 5 was done by Colin Matthews in 2021, published by Faber Music. Such arrangements were routine then; they are rare now. Both original symphonies were composed in times of stress in Beethoven's life, when his deafness was progressing noticeably.

The music is known to nearly everyone, because we have broadcasts and recordings; in the 19th century, composers often hurried to get new compositions into print so that talented amateurs could buy a score and play it in gatherings with families and friends – in an intimate setting, as chamber music was performed, rather than in a concert hall where they had to pay for a seat. This was the case with Beethoven's 2nd, and is now possible for his 5th. For my ears, this is much more enjoyable in a living room than a full-orchestra rendition.

The performances are, needless to say, impeccable; details and nuances in expression are easier to hear, grasp, understand, appreciate, and enjoy. They are likely much easier for the musicians to execute due to the absence of numerous others competing for their ears. The balance and coordination are excellent; the tempi seem perfect. Energy and volumes are adequate, even for the drama of the opening notes of the 5th and other ff moments, for a living room setting, and the differences for the quiet moments are delicately handled, and easier to perceive than in a concert hall with an orchestra. Only the presence of woodwind and brass instruments is missing. The 5th can seem very bombastic there; here it is far more nuanced and exquisite, but equally effective and enjoyable.

The 8-page accompanying booklet is simple, merely the track listing, full-page photos of the three musicians, the production information (Recorded August 1-4, 2021 in Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood […], Lenox, MA), the dedication ("To Michael Tilson Thomas, with deep affection and immense gratitude for encouraging this idea."), and the acknowledgements. No bio of the composer, notes about the works, or bios of the musicians: in today's world, technology and the Internet make it simple to find all you need or want to know easily, and almost instantly with your computer, laptop, tablet and/or smart phone. I've supplied all the links; dig as deep as you like. I rely mostly on Wikipedia, because its entries are prepared by detached, objective writers, which a journalist and reviewer is supposed to be, not by one/those involved in the item/subject, which can be self-promotion, verging on propaganda, but the link to the websites of those are also included in the entries, while theirs do not link to it.

Try it, I can guarantee that you'll like it! The price is clearly right. You have the feeling of having the "big names" visiting you in your living room for a private performance. The product may well also be designed for a download, where all you get is the music, so this text can be your companion to get more, if you choose that option, but you'll miss out on the nice photos, and perhaps on the sound quality of a stereo system.

P.S. If you are interested in acquiring the score, a 22 February note from Andrew Fowler at Faber Music says that the composer is finalizing the sheet music and it won't be ready for a couple months.