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.
Bach showed that the cello can dance, but composers from Rossini to Shostakovich have favored it as an instrument of pensive reflection and brooding melancholy. The playful cover photo notwithstanding, SOLO features Yo-Yo Ma in five 20th century cello works of a serious nature, all with folk influence and all echoing at least a bit of the troubles of the times in which they were written.
As orchestras and conductors have been demonstrating for more than a century, you don't have to be Bohemian to play Dvorák. All you need is profound musicality, a deep love of life, and an overwhelming urge to communicate. These are all qualities that Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra demonstrate in full in this 2000 Channel Classics recording of the composer's Eighth and Ninth symphonies. In these performances, one hears not only edge-of-the-chair excitement from the Hungarian musicians, one hears joy, happiness, and good old-fashioned fun. Listen to the rollicking horn trills in the Eighth's Finale, the thundering timpani in the Ninth's Scherzo; the interplay between winds, strings, and brass in the coda of the Eighth's Scherzo; the lush string tone in the Ninth's Largo; the headlong rush of the Eighth's opening Allegro con brio; or the awesome power of the Ninth's closing Allegro con fuoco.
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