Many people have accused the Maisky interpretation of the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites as "romanticized." I have just two words for Maisky's critics: "So What?". What truly matters is that Mischa Maisky is the most energetic and most original devotee of Bach. His version of the Bach Cello Suites is not only the best in the market today, but more importantly, demonstrates that music should be played by an artist, not for the sake of accuracy, but for the purpose of art and its resulting empathy which infuses the audience.
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.
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.