Stories » Yo-Yo Ma explores the Bach Cello Suites with impeccable command and delicate imagination / The Sydney Morning Herald

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Yo-Yo Ma explores the Bach Cello Suites with impeccable command and delicate imagination / The Sydney Morning Herald

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What can violinists do that violists cannot? Play the viola! That cruel joke, told to me by a violinist recently, had me pondering why there are so few jokes like that about cellists. Indeed, cellists, pound for pound, are over-represented among the great humanitarians, from Pablo Casals​ to Mstislav Rostropovich and the superb American cellist Yo-Yo Ma. And few works are more humanitarian – or, if one is so inclined, divine – than the six suites Bach wrote for unaccompanied cello. Ma, 63 on October 7, learned them at four, and has been playing them for nearly six decades. This is his third recording (his first won a Grammy) and, he says, his last, on two albums titled Six Evolutions. They are well-named, for his interpretation has indeed developed over the decades, and is now much freer in rhythm, rubato and tone-colour, but with no loss in intimacy or highly individual texture. Ma explores the near-infinite variety and subtlety of these wondrous suites with impeccable command and delicate imagination. Purists may object to his interpretive freedom – an account built on three centuries of musical evolution as well as his own developing understanding. BARNEY ZWARTZ​

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