Yo-Yo Ma Plays Cello Masterworks is an eight-CD box set of previously released material recorded in the 1980s and 1990s, and presumably so familiar to his fans that the package doesn't even come with a booklet. It really is a no-frills affair, right down to the thin cardboard sleeves that repeat the same photograph on the box, instead of offering original cover art. But the greatest disappointment is that only three of J.S. Bach's Six Cello Suites were included, so listeners seeking them should forego this budget package and find the complete suites, which Ma recorded twice.
In the '80s there were those listeners who thought that Heinrich Schiff might redeem cello performance practice from fatal beauty and lethal elegance. Aside from the burly and brawny Rostropovich, more and more cellists were advocating a performance style whose ideals were perfect intonation and graceful phrasing. In some repertoire, say, Fauré, these are perfectly legitimate goals. In other repertoire, Beethoven and Brahms, say, it is a terrible mistake. In Bach's Cello Suites, as the fay and fragile Yo-Yo Ma recordings make clear, it was a terminal mistake. Not so in Schiff's magnificently muscular 1984 recordings of the suites: Schiff's rhythms, his tempos, his tone, his intonation, and especially his interpretations were anything but fay or fragile. In Schiff's performance, Bach's Cello Suites are not the neurasthenic music of a composer supine with dread and despair in the dark midnight of the soul, but the forceful music of a mature composer in full control of himself and his music.
It was with three of Bach’s cello suites, transcribed for the viola, that Maxim Rysanov made his début on BIS in 2010. The Sunday Times had one reservation: ‘Rysanov’s recording of Bach’s suites is near perfection; the only flaw being that he did not perform all six.’ With the present disc that flaw is now being rectified, and the set is complete.
The music of the Eighteenth century features delicate textures and refinement as well as expressiveness and energy. This was the age of the smaller chamber orchestra, and Bach was one of the compositional geniuses of the century. In this recording, the award-winning Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, which specializes in authentic renditions on fine reproduction period instruments, performs four delightful Bach suites, including No. 1 in C, No. 2 in B Minor and Nos. 3 and 4 in D Major.
One could, as cellist Steven Isserlis evidently does, consider Bach's six suites for solo cello to possess a hidden "inner" program following the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious Mysteries of the Christian faith. One could thus hear the First Suite as the Nativity, the Fifth Suite as the Crucifixion, and the Sixth Suite as the Resurrection – or not, depending on one's aesthetic tastes and spiritual inclinations. But whether with or without an "inner" program, these performances of the suites are still completely convincing. It's true that Isserlis isn't interested in showing off his technique; although his playing is essentially flawless, it never calls attention to itself the way, say, Yo-Yo Ma's playing sometimes does.
"Yo-Yo Ma Plays Bach" is one of several titles in Sony's new "Music For You" Series, easily identified by their artsy, photographic covers. The material on this CD has been available previously on CBS Masterworks. True, Ma does play music by Bach, but it is sonatas (originally intended for viola da gamba and not cello) by Bach, and the Sinfonia Concertante by Bach's youngest son, Johann Christian Bach. Not that Sony is lying and not that most people will care or feel cheated, but since this title is obviously aimed at classical novices, I just thought I'd set the record straight. In a similar vein, hopefully those that discover both Bach and Yo-Yo Ma via this disc will like what they hear, and go on to get one of Ma's two recordings of the Bach "Cello Suites" – the real yardstick for composer and performer alike. ~Amazon
Cellist Zuill Bailey releases his Bach Suites for Solo Cello on February 2, 2010. All six suites were recorded in one week at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City in December, 2008, following years of preparation by Mr. Bailey. "I was unaware of the depths of the music as a young person, but came to realize that there are so many ways of interpreting Bach that it channels where a cellist is at that precise moment. It has become such a personal journey for me."
Anyone who was enchanted by Yo Yo Ma's recent video compilation of Bach's cello suites and who has an ear for guitar will also find something special here. Segovia brings a reverence and timelesness to these works, all of them ineffable masterpieces. While recording techniques and outright virtuosity have continued to develop since these recordings (Williams in the Lute Suites, Bream/Barrueco in the Chaconne, Sollscher/Galbraith and others in the Cello Suites) the sense of discovery and sheer love of beauty shine through as strongly as ever. These recordings will be around for a long time to come, but jump right in and be enchanted by as accurate and unwavering an account of these works as you ever thought possible.
Not to knock the many violinists who have done soulful powerful renditions of the 2nd Violin Partita, but Segovia's transcription of Chaconne is simply phenomonal! This CD is particularly moving for guitarists. - Amazon Reviewers