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The Cello Suites: Inspired by Bach

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Audio CD, February 17, 1998
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The Cello Suites: Inspired by Bach + The 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites Complete + Essential Yo-Yo Ma
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description


Though they were long misunderstood as mere technical hurdles, Bach's six suites for unaccompanied cello are among those rare works of music that offer inexhaustible rewards for performer and listener alike. Yo-Yo Ma gave a pathbreaking account of the suites back in the '80s (Suites for Unaccompanied Cello ) but returns to them here impelled by a unique and interdisciplinary approach. For this project, Ma engaged the talents of artists in different fields--ranging from a landscape artist to a Kabuki actor and figure skaters--to produce six short films as a visual correlative for the highly distinctive character of each suite. While the success of the films in illuminating Bach's creativity is decidedly uneven, Ma brings the music itself to life with a searing, quasi-vocal eloquence. His interpretations are probing, characterized by imaginative bowing and attention to the spacious architecture of Bach's score. This is especially clear in Ma's preference for broad, expansive tempos and patient spinning of filigreed detail. True, the generally Romantic cast of his conception can seem overdone and exaggerated in statement, as if Ma is more intent on overlaying his own personality on the discipline of the music. But the prayerful, meditative concentration he brings to the Sarabandes--listen to the single-lined, anguished tone painting in Suite 5--is utterly convincing. There is a sense of profound introspection here, while in the Sarabande of Suite 6 Ma's phrasing suggests we are in the same spiritual terrain as Beethoven's late quartets. Yet there is no lack of blistering energy and extroverted high spirits in some of the more overtly dance-oriented movements. While purists may complain of distortion in these accounts, Ma once again proves he has something vital to say with this music. --Thomas May

Disc: 1
1. Suite No. 1 In G Major: Prelude - J. S. Bach
2. Suite No. 1 In G Major: Allemande - J. S. Bach
3. Suite No. 1 In G Major: Courante - J. S. Bach
4. Suite No. 1 In G Major: Sarabande - J. S. Bach
5. Suite No. 1 In G Major: Menuett 1 - 2 - J. S. Bach
6. Suite No. 1 In G Major: Gigue - J. S. Bach
7. Suite No. 2 in D minor: Prelude - J. S. Bach
8. Suite No. 2 in D minor: Allemande - J. S. Bach
9. Suite No. 2 in D minor: Courante - J. S. Bach
10. Suite No. 2 in D minor: Sarabande - J. S. Bach
See all 21 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. Suite 4 in E flat Major: Sarabande - J.S.Bach
2. Suite 4 in E flat Major: Bouree 1- 2 - J.S.Bach
3. Suite 4 in E flat Major: Gigue - J.S.Bach
4. Suite 5 in C Minor: Prelude - J.S.Bach
5. Suite 5 in C Minor: Allemande - J.S.Bach
6. Suite 5 in C Minor: Courante - J.S.Bach
7. Suite 5 in C Minor: Sarabande - J.S.Bach
8. Suite 5 in C Minor: Gavotte 1 - 2 - J.S.Bach
9. Suite 5 in C Minor: Gigue - J.S.Bach
10. Suite 6 in D Major: Prelude - J.S.Bach
See all 15 tracks on this disc

Product Details

  • Performer: Yo-Yo Ma
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (February 17, 1998)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Sony
  • ASIN: B0000029YB
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,957 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 84 people found the following review helpful By P. Rah on January 25, 2001
Format: Audio CD
Bach's suites for cello are a must for any music lover. Like all of Bach's music it has an enlightening quality and Ma's performance of these suites is simply stunning. He throws the stylistic dogma that bitterly divides people out the window and shares his feelings about the music with us. Many people who have reviewed this set have complained about a lack of rhythmic drive and thrust in some suites, but I don't think that Ma is being slack about rhythm at all. If one listens carefully enough, one will hear that the cellist has a drive which makes absolute sense rhythmically.
I feel that this set is the most spiritual performance I have ever heard (and believe me, I've heard most of the available recordings), and in some suites (No.1, 2, 5 especially) Ma's playing has an inner quality that just transcends all possible musical dogmas and just lets the music be itself - one must remember that Bach was a deeply religious man and it shows in all of his works, and this religious spirituality is what I feel in this performance. Also, some people have complained about the over-romanticising of the suites. But music is not ALWAYS about stylistic correctness, it is about true emotion and Ma is a true comminucator of these emotions. Too much analysis of music has divided opinions too much, and while I admire many facets of the authentic movement, I feel that the insistence to play baroque or classical music in such a way means that one loses the point of playing music. Just because Bach lived in the 17th century, it doesn't mean that he didn't have feelings like people now. Ma's playing completely structured (something that was lacking in his first recording of the suites), and because it is so firmly grounded, he can take liberties which do justice to the music more than an injustice.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By George on October 30, 1998
Format: Audio CD
I suspect I don't have all that well-tuned an ear, but Ma's latest recording of the cello suites is truly outstanding-especially when combined with the video series that came out with it. I enjoy this recording somewhat more than Janos Starker's EMI (?) recording of the cello suites which I also have. Ma seems to lighten the mood of them somewhat--more, as he commented, of a prayer. The mood in Starker's interpretation seems to me darker, lonelier (though I think it would be wrong to say that one is 'better' than the other. I find myself listening to one or the other to fit my mood.)
Ma's greatest achievement, both here and in what he records of other stuff, is to bring an incredible multidisiplinary energy to the music; making it much more accessible to wider audiences. There's a scene in the film of him playing one of the suites on a traffic island in New York (?); his case is open for money and a sign next to him reads: "There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right notes at the right time and the music plays itself.--J.S. Bach"
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Hans Stoeve on December 21, 1999
Format: Audio CD
Yo Yo Ma- Inspired By Bach- The Cello Suites (Sony Classical S2K 63203)
I love Bach with a passion and the cello is my favourite instrument to truly stir the soul with. Cellist Yo Yo Ma has never been a favourite of mine as a rule, not because he is not talented but simply because I've never really heard anything that moved me on that emotional level, which I find is an incredibly important aspect of music for me. Sure I quite enjoyed his tribute to Astor Piazzolla awhile back, but let's be honest every man and his dog was recording one and I wonder, if it had not been for the musicians he was using would it have been as good as it was. Personal opinion only, by the way.
This recording though for unaccompanied cello changes my view on the man and puts him right up there with other interpreters of the music of JS Bach. This is also the music that accompanies the six part series which I have not seen so the music has to stand on its own, as it should. This is sparse music of incredible beauty and complexity. I believe YYM originally recorded the same suites for Sony back in the eighties, and for him it was somewhat of a personal voyage of discovery to not only re record them but also interpret them with the various artists and film directors he chose to employ for the series. I haven't heard such passionate playing in quite some time. Bach's six suites are incredibly rewarding to listen to and if indeed these are the pieces that musicians are measured up against in terms of degree of difficulty in playing, or level of emotional or intellectual involvement with their chosen instrument, the ability to not only colour the sound but also visualise the music for the audience, then Yo Yo Ma has indeed proven that he may well be the man who takes the cello to new heights.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By JOSHUA SELLERS on January 19, 2006
Format: Audio CD
The music on this second recording of Yo-Yo Ma's is fantastic. Admittedly, the packaging is a little confusing (the title itself is a little misleading-- as if it were not comprised of Bach compositions). But the only real complaint is that the fourth suite is split in half on the two CDs. This would be easily solved by by putting 1, 3 & 5 on one CD & 2, 4 & 6 on the other.

But the important thing is the MUSIC & I'll nevertheless give this CD set 5 stars-- this is essential listening!

I think of Bach's cello suites like the Dao De Jing-- it is open to so many endless possibilities in translation. But what I find so appealing in this recording is Ma's fine sense of balance between a 'classical' & 'romantic' approach to the cello suites. Ma is certainly not metronomically rigid with his reading, but neither is it too free. I think he strikes just the right balance in these recordings.

The famous Prelude of the first suite is at a surprisingly fast tempo (so I thought) but it flows-- it is not hurried-- one almost gets the impression of movement but stillness at the same time.

Though for a solo instrument, Bach's cello suites often sound like two, sometimes even three instruments playing at once! And what is amazing is Ma takes on the different 'voices' like an actor playing out all the parts-- the different implied musical lines of this virtual polyphony are brought out by Ma's playing by differences in bowing, volume & character.

The recording itself is so amazingly warm-- you can really feel the wood in the recording. Yo-Yo Ma's cello dances, leaps, sings & soars here.

The sixth suite is my personal favourite, especially the gavotte.
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