Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma Reunite as Beethoven For Three for a Stunning Second Installment

The all-star piano trio of Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma reunites for a second installment of Beethoven recordings for Symphony No. 6 "Pastorale" and Op. 1, No. 3

By Greg Cahill | From the March-April 2023 issue of Strings magazine

Does it get better than this? This all-star piano trio—pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma—reunites for a second installment of Beethoven recordings, the follow-up to Beethoven for Three’s critically acclaimed 2022 release of Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5, released eight months earlier. The performances are sumptuous as these master players weave their way through two Beethoven works, exploring the piano trio format. 


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Beethoven for Three: Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale” and Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1, No. 3
Leonidas Kavakos, violin; Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Emanuel Ax, piano 
(Sony Classical)

One of Beethoven’s most popular works, the “Pastorale”—the full title of which is Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life—is the composer’s homage to nature. It was first performed in Vienna in 1808 in tandem with the 5th Symphony in a four-hour program. If I have any beef with this recording, it is that Kavakos’ violin sounds a tad thin in the mix. Otherwise, this is a solidly respectful rendering of a classical masterwork, arranged for this trio in particular by Shai Wosner.

It is paired here with Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1, No. 3. Where others—the Berlin-based ATOS Trio comes to mind—infuse this work with fire and fury, Beethoven for Three rounds out the edges, resulting in a prettier recording. That approach has its merits, especially when Kavakos teases those high notes in the Allegro con brio. And it is consistent with the symphonic essence of Piano Trio No. 3, which is known for its dark, lyrical beauty and groundbreaking shift away from the more individualized piano trio arrangements used by Mozart and Haydn.