CBS/Sony Classical has been accompanying superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma for decades on his journey through the unsurpassed works written for his instrument by Johann Sebastian Bach. The label is now pleased to announce the release of important landmarks from that journey, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Bach, on a single CD. Ma's first recording of Bach's six Solo Suites, which went on to win the Grammy® for "Best Classical Instrumental Performance" and is represented here by the Sarabande from the Sixth Suite, took place in 1982. In the same year, Yo-Yo Ma recorded Bach's complete sonatas for viola da gamba with harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper which was hailed by Gramophone as "intelligent and expressive."
J.S. Bach's Johannes-Passion, or St. John Passion, BWV 245 – one of just two surviving Bach Passion works out of an original four or five – is, simply put, a headache for editors and performers wishing to recreate the authentic, stamped-and-approved original work. There is no such beast: the work was performed at least four times during Bach's lifetime, and for each new presentation he overhauled the music, adding numbers, deleting numbers, changing numbers, so that today we really have four different St. John Passions through which to pick and choose our way. Happily enough, however, Bach misses the mark in not a single one of those numbers, and the director can hardly go wrong selecting from such a wealth of fine material. The St. John Passion was first heard on April 7, 1724 (Good Friday), and then reproduced for Leipzig churchgoers in 1725, sometime in the early 1730s (perhaps 1732), and then again in 1749. Perhaps in part because of its sometimes bewildering compositional history and the fact that its texts were not really conceived as a single entity (Bach seems to have arranged the texts himself from a number of disparate sources, and sometimes his efforts – which seem to have been hasty ones – are not altogether graceful), the St. John Passion has never been a sweepingly popular work like the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. But it is a monumental work that must have made quite an impression indeed at its first performance, early on in Bach's tenure as Cantor of Leipzig.