Yo-Yo Ma: Songs from the Arc of Life

Works by Brahms, Debussy, Delius, Dvořák, Elgar, Fauré, Gade, Gershwin, Gounod, Grieg, Kreisler, Messiaen, Saint-Saëns etc

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Debussy,Delius,Dvorak,Elgar,Faure,Gade,Gershwin,Gounod,Grieg,Kreisler,Messiaen,Saint-Saëns etc
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: Yo-Yo Ma: Songs from the Arc of Life
WORKS: Works by Brahms, Debussy, Delius, Dvořák, Elgar, Fauré, Gade, Gershwin, Gounod, Grieg, Kreisler, Messiaen, Saint-Saëns etc
PERFORMER: Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Kathryn Stott (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 88875103162

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This curious collection appears to be an exercise in unstrenuous nostalgia for Yo-Yo Ma’s 60th. It’s almost bound not to live up to its grand title, Songs from the Arc of Life, and the booklet notes are inane. The opening works – Bach’s Ave Maria, Brahms’s Lullaby and Dvořák’s Songs my mother taught me – are peculiarly colourless; but then comes Debussy’s manic Papillons and a delightfully fluent Gershwin Prelude, and the programme begins to take shape. The third theme from Sollima’s Il bell’Antonio makes for a grindingly powerful centre-point, and both performers have fun with Grieg’s tiny soap opera The Wounded Heart and Gade’s uproarious Tango jalousie. Ma dispatches the pyrotechnics with aplomb in Kreisler’s La gitana, but there’s little of dazzling brilliance.

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Ma’s sound in this album has a rather lived-in quality, golden allure replaced by gritty articulacy. Physical exertion and goal-driven intensity give way to nonchalant calm. This works in a beautifully sustained ‘Louange à l’éternité de Jésus’ from Messaien’s famous quartet, but less so in Fauré’s sensuous Après un rêve: rather than enlarging its scope, he leaves it diminished, despite Kathryn Stott’s warm eloquence. Helen Wallace