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Yo-Yo Ma Plays Bach and Boccherini
Yo-Yo Ma (cello, baroque cello)
rec. 1981-1998
SONY 19075816322 [6 CDs: 347:37]

That Sony have once again released the Bach Cello Suites in yet another edition shows the enduring popularity of Yo-Yo Ma’s recording of the set. I personally have never held it as one of my favourites, I use to have it on LP, but have never owned it on CD. The reason for this is his playing of the Sixth Suite, my go-to suite to assess any set, I don’t know what it is, but the opening Prélude just doesn’t sound right, this is a shame as the rest of the Suite, and for that matter the other five suites, sound wonderful. Ma is especially good on the slower movements, the famous Saraband is a joy, whilst the Prélude’s of the First and Fifth Suites are particularly fine. Nowhere does it say if this is the original master or the digitally remastered recording of the Suites, mind you the only information is on the back of the sleeves, there is no accompanying booklet, something Sony should be ashamed of, surely it would not cost much to produce some information in the form of a book, after all they would not have to commission a new booklet essay, they could just edit the originals, for which they own the copyright, but this is the same with this Masters series, one of the reasons why I only have a couple of them.

One of the highlights of the box is the disc of the Sonatas for Harpsichord and Viola da Gamba, once again, there is no information about whose transcription for cello it is, but it is a faithful and enjoyable one. There is much to enjoy here, Ma has a lovely tone in these works, and indeed throughout the complete set, with Kenneth Cooper ably accompanying him on the harpsichord. The opening Adagio of the First Sonata is beautifully played, and this sets the tone for the whole disc, with Ma showing that he has a real affinity for this music, this is a disc that is over all too soon.

Simply Baroque is something of a misnomer, especially given that Luigi Boccherini is usually regarded as a composer of the classical period and not the baroque, he was not called Haydn’s wife for nothing. I remember well buying this CD back in the late 1990’s, but it was not for the Bach transcriptions, it was for the Boccherini, a composer who even only twenty years ago was scarcely represented in the catalogues, that was unless you wanted the famous Minuetto. I was very impressed with Ma’s playing of the concertos and always thought it a shame that he didn’t go on to record the complete concertos of Boccherini. There is much to enjoy here in the Bach, Ton Koopman has made some wonderful transcriptions, and not just of the famous ones such as Jesu, bleibet meine Freude, but also the more unusual. I never got Simply Baroque II, but the disc has the same premise and the first disc, a collection of Bach transcriptions, including a particularly beautiful rendition of Sheep May Safely Graze where Ma plays second fiddle, so to speak, to the flautists. This is not unusual, as Koopman on more than one occasion employs Yo-Yo Ma as a kind of starry and prominent ground bass. When he is given the limelight, Ma plays wonderfully well bringing out the almost vocal qualities of his instrument. The disc like Volume 1, concludes with two concertos by Boccherini, which only serves to strengthen my argument for Ma to have been given the chance to complete the recording of all the Boccherini’s cello concertos.

The final disc in this set presents the Boccherini B flat major Cello Concerto that we heard on the previous disc, but this is from a different performing edition, with the second movement being an Adagio (non troppo) rather than the Andantino grazioso of the previous recording and is half as long again. It is good to be able to compare and contrast, not just performing styles but also editions, after all the composer was regarded as one of the greatest cello virtuosos of his generation, so I imagine he would have composed his own cadenzas. This is followed by a new Bach, the great man’s son Johann Christian, a Sinfonia Concertante in which Ma is joined by Pinchas Zukerman on violin, and the Symphony, or Grand Overture for Double Orchestra in E flat Major, a work in which Ma does not feature. The performances are a little heavier than on previous discs, probably due to Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra being more use to playing music in a more historically informed manner.

Throughout this set Yo-Yo Ma shows just why he has been held in such high esteem as a soloist for such a long time, he has a lovely tone throughout these six discs and a great sense of expression, it is not often that you can get a six-disc set and enjoy it all bar a single four-minute track. A real collector’s edition, a set that will open new doors for most people and I imagine will bring great enjoyment, just shame about the lack of any notes.

Stuart Sillitoe

Contents
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
CD 1 [63:37]
The Suites for Solo Cello
No. 1 in G BWV 1007 [16:31]
No. 4 in E flat BWV 1010 [24:30]
No. 5 in C minor BWV 1011 [23:42]
CD 2 [64:13]
The Suites for Solo Cello
No. 2 in D minor BWV 1008 [18:58]
No. 3 in C BWV 1009 [19:24]
No. 6 in D BWV 1012 [26:48]
CD 3 [41:51]
Sonatas for Harpsichord and Viola da Gamba
No. 1 in G BWV 1027 [13:04]
No. 2 in D BWV 1028 [14:52]
No. 3 in G minor BWV 1029 [14:11]
With Kenneth Cooper (harpsichord)
CD 4 [69:02]
Simply Baroque
J. S. BACH
Transcriptions for Cello and Chamber Ensemble by Ton Koopman
Cantata, BWV 167: Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren [2:17]
St Matthew Passion, BWV244: Erbarme dich [7:20]
Cantata BWV147 'Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben': Jesu, bleibet meine Freude [2:44]
Cantata, BWV 22: Ertöt' und durch dein' Güte [1:30]
Chorale Prelude BWV639 'Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ' [2:28]
Chorale Prelude BWV650 'Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter' [3:07]
Cantata, BWV 163: Lass mein Herz die Münze sein [3:00]
Cantata, BWV 136: Dein Blut, der edle Saft [0:51]
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV1068: Air ('Air on a G String') [5:04]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Concerto for Cello and String Orchestra in G Major, G. 480 [17:32]
Cello Concerto No. 5 in D major, G478 [23:05]
Cadenzas Ton Koopman
With Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Ton Koopman (organ, harpsichord)
CD 5 [60:03]
Simply Baroque II
J. S. BACH
Transcriptions for Cello and Chamber Ensemble by Ton Koopman
Cantata, BWV 75: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan [1:28]
Goldberg Variations, BWV988: Aria [4:40]
Chorale Prelude BWV645 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme' [3:48]
Chorale Prelude BWV647 'Wer nur den lieben Gott laesst walten' [3:26]
Cantata, BWV 186: Die Hoffnung wart' der rechten Zeit [2:06]
Chorale Prelude BWV648 'Meine Seele erhebt den Herren' [2:28]
Sheep May Safely Graze, from Cantata BWV208 [3:38]
Cantata, BWV 76: Es danke, Gott, und lobe dich das Volk in guten Taten [2:59]
Chorale Prelude BWV649 'Ach bleib’ bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ' [2:15]
Luigi BOCCHERINI
Concerto in B-Flat Major for Cello & Orchestra, G. 482 [16:34]
Cello Concerto No. 3 in D major, G476 [16:34]
Cadenzas Ton Koopman
With Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Ton Koopman (organ, harpsichord)
CD 6 [48:49]
Luigi BOCCHERINI
Cello Concerto No. 9 in B flat major, G482 [19:55]
Edition: Friedrich Grützmacher
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Sinfonia concertante in A Major for Violin, Violoncello, 2 Horns, 2 Oboes, Strings and Basso continuo, T.284 / 4, CW C34 [15:28]
Symphony in E flat Major, Schmitt Op. 18, 1 [13:19]
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Layton James (harpsichord Op. 18)
Pinchas Zukerman (violin, director)




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