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Paris La Belle Époque


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Audio CD, April 29, 2003
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Product Details

  • Performer: Yo-Yo Ma, Kathryn Stott
  • Composer: Jules Massenet, Gabriel Faure, Camille Saint-Saens, Cesar Franck
  • Audio CD (April 29, 2003)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sony
  • ASIN: B00008NGCQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,275 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Meditation From Thais
2. I. Allegro Molto
3. II. Andante
4. III. Allegro Vivo
5. IV. Allegro Quasi Presto
6. Havanaise, Op. 83
7. I. Allegretto Ben Moderato
8. II. Allegro
9. III. Recitativo-Fantasia-Ben Moderato
10. IV. Allegretto Poco Mosso

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Amazon.com

The cello has often been called the king of string instruments because its range encompasses all four vocal registers. Nevertheless, cellists are always complaining of the comparative paucity of their literature, and feel justified in raiding more fertile fields. Even Yo-Yo Ma, who has enriched the repertoire by commissioning a considerable number of new works and exploring the native music of different continents, cannot resist the temptation to engage in a little poaching. On this record, he performs four staples of the violin literature in transcriptions for cello, three of them his own. They are linked by their supposed influence on the French writer Marcel Proust and his famous novel, In Search of Lost Time, and take us to early 20th-century Paris, where Ma was born of Chinese parents five decades later. Naturally, the transcriptions do not work equally well. All retain the original keys and leave the piano parts intact; perhaps in an effort to reproduce the violin's bright tone-color, they also retain the original pitch for long stretches. This exploits the cello's "soprano" voice, but though Ma handles the stratospheric register masterfully, even he cannot make it sound natural, so it always comes as a relief when he lets his instrument sound like a real cello in its "tenor" or "bass" voice. Highlights are the Fauré A-major Sonata and the Saint-Saëns Havanaise: charming and elegant, the former is thoroughly romantic, exuberant and sunny; the latter captures the atmosphere and Spanish idiom brilliantly. You probably have to be a cellist to like the famous, nameless transcription of the Franck Sonata; the performance is a bit excessive in tempo, dynamics and rhythmic freedom. Throughout, pianist Kathryn Stott is a tower of strength and a model of empathy. --Edith Eisler

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Christopher Coleman on July 6, 2003
Format: Audio CD
Yo-Yo Ma is unquestionably one of the most fascinating performers of classical music active today. He is possessed of a ferocious technique, innate musicality and a vast imagination. From his Silk Road project to his collaborations with artists from Bobby McFerrin to Tan Dun, he always seeks new and fascinating ventures. Consisting of four French pieces from the late Nineteenth Century, La Belle Epoque is not as unique as some of his undertakings but it does have its own special twist. These pieces were originally written for violin-and for Ma to perform them flawlessly on cello with its much larger fingerboard, thicker strings, and more difficult technique is amazing. That he does so in a way that is so convincing throughout is nearly miraculous.
Sonatas by Gabriel Faure and Cesar Frank are the most substantial works on the disc. The Faure in particular is a delight, with its exuberant third movement and introspective second. Complementing these sonatas are the Meditation from Jules Massenet's opera Thais and Camille Saint-Saens' Havanaise. Ma's interpretation of the Massenet work is truly intense and Romantic, but not always meditative. His control of the line, in every aspect, from dynamics to tempo to vibrato shows him a master of the musical phrase. Pianist Kathryn Stott matches Ma superbly throughout every turn. But it is in the Saint-Saens, a delightful and almost comic Spanish dance alternating with virtuoso showpiece, that Ma really shines. His obvious joy in the music, coupled with his astonishing ability, makes this disc a real pleasure.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Alan Lekan on March 2, 2006
Format: Audio CD
Paris at the turn of the century was glorious and enjoying its "Golden Age" with music and the arts taking center stage in society. This was the age of Paris' grand architectural plan, the Eiffel Tower, the revolutionary poets and writers, the Impressionist painters Monet and Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge. No less prominent were the famous musical talents of the day: Saint-Saens, Massenet, Franck, Faure, Chausson, Debussy, d'Indy and later Ravel. There was a strong interconnectedness of these composers and many were dearly loved teachers. Faure owed his learning to Saint-Saens ... Debussy was mentored by Chausson who learned under Franck. Most retained respect and admiration for classical forms (shunning the fashionable Wagnerian influences) while Debussy went his own way with totally new innovations. Faure's music was the most "quintessential French" with its clarity, poise and moderation. Together, these composers restored the prominance of instrumental music in France that had been dominated by opera. In doing so they also defined a truly "French" romanticism - one with sensuous tonalities, rich chromatic textures and a passionate lyricism.

This CD features four of the more famous Parisian compositions of this magical era, but transcribed to cello. I noticed some music critics gave this CD scathing reviews (like David Hurwitz of ClassicsToday), citing major "issues" with such transcriptions such as "tonality incongruencies" with the cello here for music written explicitly for violin and piano. Additionally, complaints were leveled at the cellist for "an overly sweet and precious style." Well, after revisiting this CD recently, it puzzles me what's the bone of contention here.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Kyle Y on May 6, 2003
Format: Audio CD
I thoroughly enjoy this recording. My favourite piece out of the lot is Saint-Saëns' "Havanaise"; it is truly a romantic work of music. The onset of the distinguishing melodic string of notes is just beautiful; interestingly, the interaction of Ma's cello and Stott's piano is almost flirtatious. "Meditation From Thais" is also an outstanding piece; rhythmic and full of melancholy in nature, it is soothing after a long day at work. With these recordings, Ma's cello spends most of the time in the upper soprano (violin) ranges of the instrument, and it is quite amazing, which is why the conclusion to "Eternal Vow" from the Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon soundtrack is such a delight; the sound, although, not as natural as a violin, is nevertheless, pure and serene. And one major advantage the cello has over a violin in these pieces is the ability to also go deep and sound full; I have always enjoy the cello's ability to engulf the listener with its bass, sing to them in the midranges, then awe them with the highs. Go get this CD and enjoy!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 14, 2004
Format: Audio CD
Yo Yo Ma once again proves why he is one of the premier cellists playing today. He has taken 4 works for violin and transormed them into works for cello. Although not totally successful, he shows very fast fingers and where the notes fit the more natural sound of the cello, he soars. But what makes this CD so delightful is the piano playing of Katherine Schott - together they make beautiful music. Nice change of pace for a cello CD.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jon Strand on February 23, 2013
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Graceful, beautiful CD.
I already knew the first track (Meditation from "Thais") but the rest was new to me.
If one wanted to take this a step further, you could go looking for the original violin versions of these pieces and it would be worthwhile (I did: Anne Sophie Mutter on "Meditation," Perlman/Ashkenazy on the Franck Sonata, Lupu on the Faure, Perlman on the Saint Saens ... to name but a few excellent options).
I do still listen to this CD, though, and can happily recommend it. Ma is so good, and he and Stott know each other very well (and she does much more than just play "accompaniment" piano: she's a partner here, as well as being a soloist in her own right on other CDs).
C'est belle melancholie.
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