"...absolutely bowled over..." Andrew Farach-Colton

An all-star line-up has recorded Colin Matthews’ arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5, released on Sony this March. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax, and violinist Leonidas Kavakos have recorded the 2021 arrangement as part of Beethoven for Three, which also includes a version of the Symphony No.2, devised by Beethoven’s student Ferdinand Ries in 1805 and edited further by the composer himself. The arrangement was commissioned for Yo-Yo Ma, Leonidas Kavakos and Emanuel Ax by Sound Postings LLC.

Ax, Ma, and Kavakos came to these intimate versions of Beethoven symphonies because of lockdown, as Ax noted in The Washington Post: “…there were no orchestra concerts going on. Everything had just simply stopped. And Yo-Yo said, “This is our chance to play things like the Beethoven symphonies for a small group.” And, of course, that was always part of the way these pieces got introduced.”

Matthews is renowned for his work as an arranger, whether reducing larger scale works to chamber proportions or weaving orchestral tapestries from piano pieces. Highlights include his 2017 version of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen for tenor and 12 instrumentalists and his numerous versions of Claude Debussy’s piano Préludes for full orchestra.

In this month’s Gramophone Andrew Farach-Colton reviews Matthews’ Beethoven: “I wasn’t expecting to be absolutely bowled over by Colin Matthews’ arrangement of the Fifth symphony, but I was – and still am.” He continues, “Matthews has done a most impressive job of paring the music down to its essentials while retaining its character and emotional impact…he’s been quite true to the letter of the score, but not at all in a slavish way.”