Yo-Yo Ma

Inspired by Bach: The Cello Suites

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Yo-Yo Ma's second recording of Bach's Cello Suites, released in 1997, came about after he heard a quote by Albert Schweitzer describing Bach as a pictorial composer. That led Ma to ask six directors and several other artists from different disciplines to collaborate with him on a series of short films -- part documentary, part performance -- each one based on one of the suites. The resulting mini-series, titled Inspired by Bach, was shown on television in Canada, the U.S., Europe, and at various film festivals. Each of the suites in this recording, however, isn't necessarily the exact soundtrack for the film it goes with, but it was what the other artists involved in the project used as their inspiration.

The main question is: separate from the films, how does this set of suites differ from Ma's 1983 set? In general, Ma's interpretation isn't that different from the earlier recording. It isn't necessarily more mature, since only 12 years separate the recordings, and the 1983 version was already musically mature. It isn't more technically pure or historically authentic. What seems different is that each suite seems a little more distinct from the others, the movements within more cohesive, and that Ma's playing feels more instinctive, relaxed, and organic and even more openly communicative than the earlier recording. He's not exaggerating any of his dynamic, tempo, or phrasing decisions, yet there's a sense that he's letting the music flow naturally through his instrument. The dance movements truly dance, and even the more introspective movements of Suites No. 2 and No. 3 offer some captivation for the casual listener. It's as if Ma was inspired by the other artists involved in the project to be as honest as possible with them in how the music speaks to him.

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