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Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma Release Third Album in “Beethoven for Three” Series

Symphony No. 4 and Op. 97, “Archduke,” Available Now

Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma Release Third Album in “Beethoven for Three” Series

Like the artists’ two previous Beethoven for Three releases, this new recording challenges the traditional distinction between chamber and orchestral repertoire, pairing the unforgettable “Archduke” trio with one of the composer’s most internally varied symphonies, thoughtfully re-arranged for piano, violin, and cello by Shai Wosner. Beethoven for Three: Symphony No. 4 and Op. 97, “Archduke” is the latest chapter in three friends’ ongoing exploration of what Beethoven’s invention means for musicians and audiences today.

The Beethoven for Three series features three artists in pursuit of the essential elements of Beethoven’s musical language, presenting Beethoven’s most iconic symphonies in intimate arrangements that maintain the power and immediacy of his orchestral works. By performing the symphonies on three instruments alongside the composer’s canonical piano trios, the artists present a wealth of insight into both Beethoven and his earliest audiences. 

“We all feel that being able to participate in a symphony is such a wonderful thing to do,” says Ma. “One of the things that has separated people since recording began is the categories that we put people in, in which chamber musicians, orchestra players, people who play concertos, people who do transcriptions, people who compose, people who conduct, are all viewed as separate categories with no overlap. That siloed thinking discourages actual creativity and collaboration between people. And so we feel that one of the things that is really important to do today is to actually go back to the first principles of music, the simple interaction between friends who want to do something together.”

Beethoven for Three has its origins in the 2021 Tanglewood Music Festival, where Ax, Kavakos, and Ma first played Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in trio format. The performance was an instant success, and the first release in the series, Beethoven for Three: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5, was recorded soon after. Gramophone highlighted their recording of Symphony No. 5, noting that “the performance by Ax, Kavakos and Ma is not just aptly intense—the opening Allegro con brio is as involving as any orchestral performance I’ve heard—but also incredibly sensitive to the music’s crucial juxtapositions, as one can hear in the Andante con moto, where they so deftly balance delicacy and heroic swagger—note the vulnerability in Kavakos’s tone at 1’42″—in a way that I find deeply moving.”

The second installment in the project, Beethoven for Three: Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale” and Op. 1, No. 3 was released in 2022 to further acclaim.The Strad noted that “the blend and balance between these three hugely experienced players is just about ideal in the relaxed outer movements [of Symphony No. 6] and in the ‘Scene by the Brook’, while the ‘Peasants’ Merrymaking’ is as rustic and playful as the ‘Storm’ is disruptive…They are just as urbane and sophisticated in the C minor Piano Trio…This is Ax’s stamping ground and he brings his string-playing friends along with him for a performance that beguiles and delights from beginning to end.”

Ax, Kavakos, and Ma first performed together as a trio at the 2014 Tanglewood Festival, playing a program of Brahms’s piano trios. Their first recording effort, Brahms: The Piano Trios, was released in 2017 to universal critical acclaim; Gramophone observed that “These performances get straight to the heart of Brahms’s music, relishing its pull of opposites,” while Limelight noted, “There’s no doubting the ardour that these players bring to the music, which is delivered with an eye to creating broad, sweeping phrases … there are plenty of opportunities to swoon along the way.”

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Beethoven for Three: Symphony No. 4 and Op. 97 “Archduke”

Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos & Yo-Yo Ma

Symphony No. 4 in B-Flat Major, Op. 60

1                I. Adagio – Allegro vivace

2                II. Adagio

3                III. Allegro vivace

4                IV. Allegro ma non troppo

Piano Trio No. 7 in B-Flat Major, Op. 97, “Archduke”

5                I. Allegro moderato

6                II. Scherzo. Allegro

7                III. Andante cantabile, ma però con moto

8                IV. Allegro moderato