This disc introduces Yo-Yo Ma's latest and most ambitious adventure, the Silk Road Project. It explores the cultures that flourished along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that for centuries connected Europe and the East. Founded by Ma in 1998, the project aims to create connections, mutual trust, and cultural interchange between people from different parts of the world through their only shared language: music. This recording includes music from Mongolia, China, Persia, Japan, Iran, Azerbaijan, and an improvisation on an Italian Renaissance street song, performed by musicians from all those countries, as well as America, on both Eastern and Western instruments. Ma, who participates in every piece either as soloist or part of the ensemble, plays cello and a Mongolian "horse-head fiddle." There is also a Mongolian soprano, who sings a traditional song native to her region.
Bach showed that the cello can dance, but composers from Rossini to Shostakovich have favored it as an instrument of pensive reflection and brooding melancholy. The playful cover photo notwithstanding, SOLO features Yo-Yo Ma in five 20th century cello works of a serious nature, all with folk influence and all echoing at least a bit of the troubles of the times in which they were written.
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.
The Cello Concerto No.1 in C Major, Hob. VIIb/1, by Joseph Haydn was composed around 1761–1765 for longtime friend Joseph Weigl, then the principal cellist of Prince Nicolaus's Esterhazy Orchestra. The work was presumed lost until 1961, when musicologist Oldrich Pulkert discovered a copy of the score at the Prague National Museum. Though some doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the work, most experts believe that Haydn did compose this concerto.