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The Essential Yo-Yo Ma
CD 1
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750) Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: Prélude; Antonio VIVALDI (1678–1741) “Winter” from The Four Seasons, Op. 8 No. 4: Largo; Johann Sebastian BACH Jesus bleibet meine Freude, BWV 147; Schafe können sicher weiden, BWV 208; Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645; Camille SAINT-SAÊNS (1835–1921) The Swan from Carnival of the Animals; Havanaise, Op. 83 [8:54]; Jules MASSENET (1842–1912) Meditation from Thais; Fritz KREISLER (1875–1962) Liebesfreud; George GERSHWIN (1898–1937) Three Preludes: Prelude No. 1; Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943) Vocalise [6:24]; Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975) Sonata in D Minor for Cello and Piano Op. 40: Allegro; Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893) Andante Cantabile for Cello Solo and String Orchestra, Op. posth. [8:22]; Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897) Quartet No. 1 in G Minor for Piano and Strings, Op. 25: Rondo alla Zingarese. Presto [8:05]; Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904) Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 104: Finale. Allegro moderato [12:50]
CD 2
Cesar Camargo MARIANO (b. 1944) Cristal; Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887–1959) A lenda do caboclo; Antonio Carlos JOBIM (1927–1994) Chega de saudade; Paquito d’RIVERA (b. 1948) Wapango; Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921–1992) Libertango; Mark O’CONNOR (b. 1961) Appalachia Waltz (Solo Cello Version); Butterfly’s Day Out; Edgar MEYER (b. 1960) 1B; John WILLIAMS (b. 1932) Three Pieces for Solo Cello: Pickin’; Trad. Simple Gifts; Ennio MORRICONE (b. 1928) The Mission: Gabriel’s Oboe; The Falls; Tan DUN (b. 1957) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Eternal Vow; David WILDE (b. 1935) The Cellist of Sarajevo: A Lament in Rondo Form for Solo Cello, Op. 12 [7:00]; Filippo AZZAIOLO (1530–1569) Chi passa per’sta strada; Chinese Traditional Mido Mountain; Sandeep DAS and Indrajit DEY Mohini (Enchantment); Claude BOLLING (b. 1930) Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano Trio: Baroque in Rhythm; Cole PORTER (1891–1964) Anything Goes; Frederick LOEWE (1901–1988) I Could Have Danced All Night
Yo-Yo Ma (cello)
various accompaniments and co-musicians, incl. Ton Koopman, Kathryn Stott, Bobby McFerrin, Emanuel Ax, Lorin Maazel, Isaac Stern, Kurt Masur, Rosa Passos, Nestor Marconi, Ennio Morricone, The Silk Road Ensemble, Claude Bolling, Stephane Grappelli and Steven Prutsman.
Recorded 1978 – 2004
SONY S2K 93927 [76:56 + 76:05]


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As can be seen from the heading this is pretty much of a mixed bag. The objective with this compilation is to show the versatility and the catholic tastes of one of the greatest musicians today before the public – and I didn’t confine it to “classical” musician, even though to most readers that’s what he primarily is. Through these 2½ hours he takes us on a very long ride through many byways and back to the classical mainstream. In culinary terms he serves a smorgasbord to suit all tastes.

CD 1 covers mainly well-trodden paths, but with a slant towards “light-classics” or classical bon-bons, most originally written for other instruments (or voices), tastefully adapted and immaculately played with silken tone. Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, often played by cellists in Leonard Rose’s arrangement, is here performed with the marvellous Bobby McFerrin, whose voice has true cello character. It blends so beautifully with Ma’s cellos; it is obviously recorded through play-back technique. It’s a different and very well done version. After so much beautiful romantic “wall-paper” music it comes as a fresh wind to hear the finale of Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata, performed with such thrust by Ma and Ax - two of the shortest names on the international circuit. Ax amply demonstrates what a wonderful pianist he is. Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile is the well-known one from his first String Quartet, but obviously this is an original arrangement. It is performed very slow and recessed, almost like funeral music, but certainly beautiful. The Brahms Rondo alla Zingarese from his first Piano Quartet is one of his most stirring chamber music movements and with Stern and Laredo also on-site this is a highpoint. One wishes that they had played the whole quartet. With Kurt Masur at the helm of the NY Philharmonic the finale of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto brings CD1 to a glorious end.

CD 2 has a distinct Latin American flavour. Surrounded by top musicians Yo-Yo Ma admirably investigates this corner of the musical world. After some tracks I was left with a feeling of sameness. It might be my fault more than the artists’, but I would have liked sharper contrasts. Anyway there are fine vocals by Rosa Passos in Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Chega de saudade, recalling the work of Astrud Gilbero in the sixties’ bossa nova wave. Piazzolla’s Libertango is a fine piece and there is some more good singing, by Alison Krauss¸ in Simple Gifts. Two more favourites: Claude Bolling’s Baroque in Rhythm recalls Alec Templeton’s Bach Goes to Town, recorded in the late 1930s by Benny Goodman. It is good to hear another swing veteran, violinist Stephane Grappelli in Anything Goes.

Infinitely fascinating is the Silk Road Ensemble, a group of musicians from many countries, many cultures and varying musical background. Here they get together and explore old and newly written music, often performed on instruments we didn’t even know existed. There are three tracks here. Hearing the music of Renaissance composer Filippo Azzaiolo played by these musicians is a great adventure. This is world music!

Discs with snippets like this have to be taken for what they are: appetizers for further exploration or just agreeable easy listening. What is never in doubt is the high quality of the playing and recording. The insert booklet has full documentation and also a selected discography. Whether this is “The Essential Yo-Yo Ma” is another question.

Göran Forsling


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