Beethoven: Triple Concerto; Symphony No. 7

Yo-Yo Ma / Anne-Sophie Mutter / Daniel Barenboim

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Beethoven: Triple Concerto; Symphony No. 7 Review

by James Manheim

Nobody would pick the Triple Concerto, Op. 56, as one of Beethoven's greatest works, but in a performance that gives star soloists room to move, it's possible to hear the sources of the work's continuous popularity. That's exactly what happens here: pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim knows when to relax a bit and allow elegant instrumental display, rather than attempting to inject tension that is not there in this attempt to drag the old sinfonia concertante form kicking and screaming into the 19th century. Consider the lovely solo cello entrance in the first movement from Yo-Yo Ma or Anne-Sophie Mutter's lovely singing line -- still, nobody does it better -- in the slow movement. The work of these stars aside, there's another attraction, and that's the playing of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Barenboim's ensemble of young Israelis and Arabs explicitly aimed at furthering the cause of peace (the name comes from a book of poems by Goethe devoted to Islamic and Eastern themes). When the group began, it had all the earmarks of a temporary political statement, but, especially after the establishment of an ongoing workshop in Andalucia and a state-accredited Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin, it has cohered into a strong performing group with traits that survive its inevitable turnover in personnel. In the Beethoven Symphony No. 7, Op. 92 that rounds out this live album, Barenboim elicits considerable energy from the group. Or is it the other way around? Whatever the case, it's a solid performance and more. The Mutter-Ma pair has recorded the Triple Concerto before (with pianist Mark Zeltser), with the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan, and for classic precision, that recording may still have the edge, but everyone here had an infectious good time.

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