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.
With adventurous crossover projects coming one after another from Yo-Yo Ma, it's nice to be able to revisit some of the performances that brought him to the top of the heap among cellists and among classical musicians in general. This disc includes Dvorák performances by Ma from various 1990s discs, with his lovely 1995 reading of the Cello Concerto in B minor, with Kurt Masur leading the New York Philharmonic, as the centerpiece.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has long been a giant in the classical world, though he has also made a number of recordings with musicians who play other styles. This holiday disc doesn't exclusively stick to traditional Christmas songs, but covers a wide scope of material in a very ambitious manner.
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.
The classical works of Tan Dun typically fuse compositional elements from the East and the West, but for his soundtrack to Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, musical cultures aren't so much blurred as coexistent side-by-side. While the magical martial arts film doesn't boast music as stunning as its visuals, this soundtrack is still beautiful and elegant, a perfect complement to the movie's mysticism. Just don't expect epic, John Williams-inspired bombast here. On "A Wedding Interrupted," the riveting brass and string section introduction segues into soft-hued meditations; "Night Fight" boasts spiky percussion but sounds more reminiscent of Stomp than a kung-fu scene. That said, Dun's understated score–filled with Asian instrumentation, Romantic cello solos from Yo-Yo Ma, and a token theme song with vocals by Asian pop star CoCo Lee–is still a fascinating listen. Fans of Ma and Dun shouldn't pass this up.