Yo-Yo on the upswing with latest release

BY JIM SCHIFF
Daily Fine/Performing Arts Editor
Published December 7, 2001

If you"re not already a fan of classical music, Yo-Yo Ma"s Classic Yo-Yo may just be the CD that converts you. Ma, one of the world"s most prolific cellists and performers, returns to his roots with this latest release. Featuring a variety of Baroque pieces, tangos, waltzes and some more ambitious cello/vocal duets, Classic Yo-Yo has the variety and the musical sensitivity to make it one of Ma"s best.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Sony Classical

Few cellists are able to capture emotion in the way Yo-Yo Ma does in his music. In performance, he is characteristically known for swaying back and forth with the bowing of the cello. On this CD, the listener can picture him doing the same thing. The first track, Bach"s "Prelude from Cello Suite No.1 in G Major," featured in the opening titles to the film, "You Can Count on Me," is one of the most heartfelt on the disc. The piece is essentially a series of sixteenth note groupings, but Ma"s rapid, accurate bowings are executed with a lyricism that transcends the music"s limitations.

Ma is able to enthrall the listener even on the more somber Bach piece, "Erbarme Dich," from "St. Matthew Passion." String instruments are particularly prey to a whiny, strained sound, but Ma"s rich tone is nothing of the sort.

Ma includes a few tangos on Classic Yo-Yo and you will probably only enjoy them if you"re a tango fan. His solo work in Piazzolla"s "Libertango" is poetic, but the accordion backdrop and pulsating piano in the background becomes annoying after awhile. The tangos do, however, add to the international scope of the disc, which also includes music from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and selections from Gershwin, Faur and Dvorak.

The American-themed tracks are probably the most listener-friendly. John Williams" "American Collection Theme" is an epic, sweeping piece that provides a perfect backdrop to Ma"s solo work. Though probably any collaboration between Williams and Ma would be fantastic, the full orchestral sound and soaring strings on "American" are truly gorgeous. "Appalachia Waltz," a trio with Edgar Meyer on bass and Mark O"Connor on violin, is a model of balance. With three accomplished soloists such as these, it"s easy for one artist to dominate the other two. Instead, Ma fuses superbly with his peers, fusing together three amazing string sounds into one.

It"s somewhat perplexing that Ma titled his disc Classic Yo-Yo, when only a few of the tracks, such as the Bach and the Brahms, can be considered "classical."

Instead, Ma includes several modern-sounding collaborations with artists such as Bobby McFerrin and Alison Kraus. Ma, who began his classical training at age four, has devoted a great deal of his time to non-classical music in the past decade.

"To me, all the different projects I have done all have great music at their core it doesn"t matter to me whether it"s great music from the Baroque era or great music by Astor Piazzolla," said Ma, in an interview included with the compact disc. "For whatever reason, I don"t tend to segregate music, or anything else for that matter, into categories. That"s just the way I see the world."

So whether you"re a cello aficionado or don"t even know what a cello is, Classic Yo-Yo is definately worth a listen. There"s definately something for everyone on this disc.