Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 9, 2019

REVIEW: Tanglewood, Beethoven, Yo-Yo Ma

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
August 6, 2019
by Karoun Charkoudian
The lawn filled up early on a mid-summer Tuesday evening at Seiji Ozawa Hall. The audience anticipated  Yo-Yo Ma in an all-Beethoven piano trio program. Guest artists included Ma, world re-known pianist Emanuel Ax, and a violinist with tremendous accolades, Leonidas Kavakos. A hush fell over the lawn when the three performers walked on stage. Ma, Ax, and Kavakos were surrounded by a full house, audience on all four sides including a balcony, the lawn completing the fourth side.

An audience member might assume that Yo-Yo Ma, the man who draws the crowds, would be the featured player on this evening. Perhaps in a show of humbleness, the selections instead featured the virtuosic playing of Ax and Kavakos, with Ma playing the support role, as cellists often do.

The first piano trio, Opus 1, was composed early in Beethoven’s career, and in fact, Haydn (his teacher), encouraged him not to publish the work because it was so intense. Opus 70 (second on the program) was created much later in Beethoven’s career and there was definitely a more settled feel to it.

All three of Beethoven’s piano trios performed that night contained four movements, which gave them a larger, symphonic-like feel. Annoyingly and surprisingly, the audience often didn’t understand the difference between the ending of one of the movements, and the ending of the piece itself.

Ax, Kavakos, and Ma not only played with perfection and life, honoring Beethoven completely, but there was an air of comfort in playing together (in fact, the three of them had recorded Brahms piano trios together in late 2017 for Sony Classical).

As the evening wore on, it was clear that in addition to perfection, the musicians were living and breathing Beethoven’s work. When the cello part did shine (very rarely) it was always a surprising deep, rich, sound, one of decades of work, channeling the very essence of Beethoven. Besides those few moments of cello glory, the audience may have felt that Seiji Ozawa hall was actually built for a piano, as the piano, above all, resounded around the lawn in crisp, clear acoustic perfection.

Tellingly, a standing ovation followed every piece, and even though some of the audience left at intermission to avoid the traffic, they walked to their cars relaxed and satisfied.