Simply Baroque (CD review)

Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Ton Koopman, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. Sony SK 60680.

Apparently, by 1999 Yo-Yo Ma had run out of basic cello repertoire to record and began going in various different directions. For instance, he did a successful album of tango tunes, another of bluegrass, and yet another of contemporary music. The novelty this time out is that he plays on a period Stradivarius cello (1712) with Ton Koopman's period-instruments group, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra.

They play about a half an hour of short Bach transcriptions, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," "Air on a G String," that kind of thing, and a pair of Boccherini cello pieces, the Concerto in G Major and the Concerto in D Major.

Yo-Yo Ma
While the Bach is undoubtedly appealing, I found it a bit fussy and over-refined. Ma's playing is ravishing, yet he seems to drain some of the life from the works in the name of beauty. On the other hand, the Boccherini is another world entirely. Maybe it's just that we hear more Bach pieces compared to Boccherini that comparisons are more harsh in the Bach. Still, I don't think I have ever heard works by Italian composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) played with more elegance, more fluidity and grace, more expressiveness, or more subtle nuance. There is no loss of vitality here; the pieces are at once alive and enlightened. Certainly, Maestro Koopman's robust style helps both Bach and Boccherini, but he, too, adds a note of sensitivity to the latter.

The booklet note says a lot about Ma's having to adapt both his instrument and his performing technique to meet the demands of period music. It appears, instead, that the eighteenth century was more than willing to conform to Ma's style. The combination provides a unique listening experience, a step beyond what the usual period-instrument player might bring to these concertos.

Sony's sound (recorded at Stadsgehoorzaal, Leiden, Netherlands in 1998 and digitally remastered in 2009) is likewise good. Recorded in Holland's Stadageboorzaal Concert Hall, the acoustic is pleasantly resonant, helping to make the sonics sound realistic without in any way distorting them.  The results are smooth, natural, and reasonably clear, with a good degree of depth as well as breadth to the stereo image. Ma's cello is dominant, to be sure, but it never completely overpowers its orchestral accompaniment.

This is a disc that scores on almost all counts, lightweight but recommendable.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa