CD Review: Yo-Yo Ma: 30 Years Outside the Box

Buy from: | Amazon UK | Amazon FR | Amazon DE

I wasn’t very familiar with Yo-Yo Ma’s work before getting this set, other than having heard his recording of Bach’s cello suites. But I took advantage of a “lightning sale” at Amazon FR to grab this set a few weeks ago at the very low price of €140 (about $190), or less than half the current price on Amazon US (I not that some third-party sellers have it for around $300, but the Amazon US price at the time of this writing is $472). To be honest, the list price for this box is well above what one expects to pay for that many CDs in the big classical box sets we’ve been seeing recently, and this is probably why Amazon FR got a bunch of the sets to put them on sale. It’s worth noting that this is a limited edition, and even though it was released in October, 2009, it has not sold 7,500 copies. (A certificate in the box tells me I have # 6464/7500.)

Like Sony’s other recent big box sets – such as the Murray Periah set and the Glenn Gould Complete Bach Edition, the set contains CDs in wallets with original artwork and the backs of original LPs in tiny fonts. There is a hardcover book, very attractive, on glossy paper, over 300 pages, with essays, photos and album notes. Sony has this down pat; while the three sets I mention are all different, with different numbers of discs, and different sized books (to fit in the appropriate boxes), the presentation of all these sets is excellent.

As for the music, Ma covers a wide range of the classical and non-classical repertoire. From chamber music to orchestral music, he gives an overview of the entire range of cello music, but also veers off in other directions, with a disc of Japanese Melodies, a Claude Bolling disc, and his “crossover” recordings, such as Appalachia Waltz, his Silk Road recordings, and some movie soundtracks, such as for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Seven Years in Tibet.

Ma is an excellent cellist, and he is never boring, though many of these works can be found in versions that are better. For example, his Schubert String Quintet lacks the pathos of better versions, and his first Bach cello suite recording is somewhat bland. (His second recording is much better.) Nevertheless, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by so much of this music as I have been listening to the set, and have discovered many works I’m not familiar with.

I wouldn’t recommend paying the full price, unless you’re an unconditional fan of Yo-Yo Ma (in which case you probably already have the set), but if you can get it at a price similar to what I paid, I’d say it’s well worth the investment.

Here’s a list of the albums in the set:

01 Robert White Sings Beethoven
02 Saint Saens Carnival of the Animals Variations on a Theme of Beethoven, Op. 35 Polonaise, Op. 77
03 Saint Saens and Lalo Cello Concertos
04 Haydn Cello Concertos
05 Beethoven Complete Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Vol. 1
06 Kreisler, Paganini
07 Bach Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord
08 Bach The Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites
09 Bach The Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites
10 Shostakovich and Kabalevsky Cello Concertos
11 Bolling Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano Trio
12 Beethoven Complete Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Vol. 2
13 Schubert String Quintet
14 Japanese Melodies
15 Elgar and Walton Cello Concertos
16 Mozart Divertimento, K. 563
17 Brahms Sonatas for Cello and Piano
18 Strauss Don Quixote Schoenberg Concerto
19 Beethoven Complete Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Vol. 3
20 Dvorak Cello Concerto
21 Boccherini Concerto J. C. Bach Sinfonia Concertante and Grand Overture
22 Mozart Adagio and Fugue in C Minor Schubert String Quartet No. 15
23 Schumann Cello Concerto Fantasiestucke
24 Dvorak Piano Trios
25 Brahms Double Concerto, Piano Quartet
26 Shostakovich Piano Trio, Cello Sonata
27 Barber and Britten Cello Concertos
28 Strauss and Britten Cello Sonatas
29 Shostakovich Quartet No. 15Gubaidulina Rejoice!
30 Anything Goes Stephane Grappelli and Yo Yo Ma Play (Mostly) Cole Porter
31 Mozart Serenade No. 10, Gran Partita
32 Brahms The Piano Quartets
33 Brahms The Piano Quartets
34 Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff Cello Sonatas
35 Tchaikovsky Gala in Leningrad
36 Hush
37 Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante, Tchaikovsky Variations
38 Brahms String Sextets
39 Brahms String Sextets
40 Brahms Sonatas for Cello and Piano
41 Schoenberg Verklarte Nacht, String Trio
42 Faure Piano Quartets
43 Made in America
44 Dvorak in Prague
45 Beethoven and Schumann Piano Quartets
46 Chopin Piano Trio, Polonaise brillante, Cello Sonata
47 The New York Album
48 Immortal Beloved
49 Brahms, Beethoven, and Mozart Clarinet Trios
50 Dvorak and Herbert Concertos from the New World
51 Schubert Trout Quintet, Arpeggione Sonata
52 Goldenthal Fire Water Paper A Vietnam Oratorio
53 Appalachia Waltz
54 Lieberson King Gesar
55 Schubert and Boccherini String Quintets
56 Yo Yo Ma Premieres
57 Mozart The Piano Quartets
58 From Ordinary Things
59 Tan Dun Symphony 1997
60 Seven Years in Tibet Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
61 Mark OConnor Liberty
62 Soul of the Tango The Music of Astor Piazzolla
63 The Cello Suites Inspired by Bach
64 The Cello Suites Inspired by Bach
65 Korngold and Schmidt Music for Strings and Piano Left Hand
66 Tavener The Protecting Veil
67 Simply Baroque
68 Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, Cello Sonata
69 Yo Yo Ma Solo
70 Appalachian Journey
71 Dvorak Piano Quartet, Romantic Pieces, Sonatina
72 Simply Baroque II
73 John Corigliano’s Phantasmagoria
74 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
75 Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams
76 Silk Road Journeys When Strangers Meet
77 Meyer and Bottesini Concertos
78 Naqoyatsi Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
79 Paris La Belle Epoque
80 Obrigado Brazil
81 Obrigado Brazil Live
82 Vivaldi Cello
83 Isaac Stern Schubert, Brahms, Bach, Mozart
84 Yo Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone
85 Silk Road Journeys Beyond the Horizon
86 Memoirs of a Geisha Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
87 New Impossibilities
88 Yo Yo Ma and Friends Songs of Joy and Peace
89 The Bonus Disc 1
90 The Bonus Disc 2