The descriptive titles appended to the five movements of his “Pastorale” help to convey the peacefully bucolic mood that Beethoven was in when he composed his sixth and most lyrical symphony.
With not a hint of the restlessness brought about in 1802 by the composer’s worsening loss of hearing, the pleasant “Awakening of cheerful feelings on arriving in the countryside”, “Scene by the brook”, and “Joyful gathering of country folk” are momentarily interrupted by the fourth movement’s “Storm” only to then have their tranquility immediately revived by the fifth and final movement’s “Shepherd’s Song and Thanksgiving after the storm.”
In the splendid CD Beethoven for Three, Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma exquisitely bring out the ethereal essence of Beethoven’s inspired music via the composer’s melodies, harmonies, and contrapuntal filigree, so much so that not for a moment one misses Beethoven’s original orchestration, while instead accepting the offering for what it is: a fascinating example of how 19th century music lovers living outside the major music centers of Germany could enjoy the creations of Beethoven and his contemporaries in middle-class homes, with gifted amateurs taking up their violins and violoncellos and having the head of the household bravely rise up to the occasion.
The selection of the Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, “Pastorale” in this reduction for piano trio is not offered here as a curiosity to be paired to the early but nonetheless inspired Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 1, No. 3, which in the hands of Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma receives a noble performance: brilliant in the opening Allegro, given a lovely cantilena in the second movement Andante with its endlessly inventive variations, the playful third movement minuet, and the silvery quick finale.
Absent a conductor who can often not only lead but impose his will on the rank and file of his musicians, here we have instead three inspired soloists who united consolidate the greatest features of two musical works, honoring the intentions of the composer while never succumbing to subserviency or pedantic fastidiousness. And this listener can think of no greater kudos than that.
Rafael de Acha © 2022