This evening on my way home I was listening to a new CD I had recently purchased: Yo-Yo Ma – Solo. This CD is, as the name implies, Yo-Yo playing contemporary solo cello pieces; works by Mark O’Connor, Bright Sheng, David Wilde, Alexander Tcherepnin, and Zoltán Kodály.
Yo-Yo certainly has his own style. I can always tell when it is him playing cello just by the tone, by the way he inflects a note, or the way he rips out a passage. I have to admit, I have not always personally appreciated his personal style, but at the same time I have always greatly respected his passion for the music and the cello.
This recording is right on the money. I think Yo-Yo excels at this listing of contemporary pieces. It’s the way he gets into a tone, and I mean really in to one single tone. It’s like this: He’ll start out with a simple, pure, quiet tone. Then maybe he will add a little crecendo with an upbow. Now maybe a little gradual vibrato. And then maybe a touch of sul ponticello as the dynamic gets more and more intense. And finally he’s burning the cello’s ovaries incandescent as the thing begins to moan and scream with the rapid and near-violent undulations of the bow.
I don’t have time to get in to the details of each piece here, but items on this disc stand out for me. The “Seven Tunes Heard in China” by Bright Sheng is a beautiful set of pieces, obviously written based on thematic material from Chinese themes. The words that sprang to mind when I first heard it was “harmonic juxaposition”. Bright Sheng sets up a wonderful play between the pentatonic modalities that are inherent of Chinese melody, that create soft dissonance and a simple yet rich texture of harmony as the melodies intertwine. Yo-Yo executes these pieces with a strong sense of musicality and attention that is rarely given to the works of living composers.
My other favorite of the moment on this disc is the Sonata for Cello op 8 by Zoltán Kodály. This piece (and perhaps also The Brahms Trio op. 8) makes me wish that I could play the cello. There is nothing else I can say about this piece – it is just simply badass.
Other recordings to check out along these lines:
O’Connor, Ma, Meyer – Appalachia Waltz
Astor Piazolla – Tango, Zero Hour
I will add links later. I’m tired and I have to get some sleep now…