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.
Sony Music is proud to announce the worldwide release of Yo-Yo Ma: 30 Years Outside the Box, a deluxe box set of Yo-Yo Ma's recorded legacy. This elaborate, numbered, limited-edition box will celebrate Yo-Yo Ma's 30th Anniversary with the label. Created with the full participation of Yo-Yo Ma, 30 Years Outside the Box, is the definitive collection of this iconic artist in a presentation as beautiful and timeless as the music itself.
One could, as cellist Steven Isserlis evidently does, consider Bach's six suites for solo cello to possess a hidden "inner" program following the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious Mysteries of the Christian faith. One could thus hear the First Suite as the Nativity, the Fifth Suite as the Crucifixion, and the Sixth Suite as the Resurrection – or not, depending on one's aesthetic tastes and spiritual inclinations. But whether with or without an "inner" program, these performances of the suites are still completely convincing. It's true that Isserlis isn't interested in showing off his technique; although his playing is essentially flawless, it never calls attention to itself the way, say, Yo-Yo Ma's playing sometimes does.