Flitting the Globe Over in Torment and Lyricism

10.29.10
Yo-Yo Ma
The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

Famous musicians can sometimes sound jaded. But Yo-Yo Ma, one of the few classical artists to attain household-name status in America, still seems to consider performing a privilege.

On Wednesday evening at Carnegie Hall, Mr. Ma played a recital with the English pianist Kathryn Stott, a longtime collaborator whom he met more than 30 years ago. There was extra seating onstage to accommodate the overflow audience.

The program opened with Schubert’s popular Arpeggione Sonata, written in 1824 for a bowed instrument that soon fell out of fashion. Mr. Ma offered an unusually restrained and admirably refined interpretation, elegantly spinning out the lovely melodies with a burnished tone. But his delicacy wasn’t always matched by Ms. Stott’s more vigorous approach.

After Schubert’s flowing melodic lines came the graceful lyricism of the opening of Shostakovich’s Sonata in D minor (Op. 40), rendered here with probing intensity. The gracious classicism of the first movement gives way to angst in the second movement’s barrage of sharp accents and robust ostinato passages. Mr. Ma played the intimate theme of the somber Largo with searing poise. The concluding Allegro is trademark Shostakovich, its frantic energy and maniacal flourishes energetically conveyed by Mr. Ma and Ms. Stott.

The first half of the program also included a lively rendition of Piazzolla’s “Grand Tango,” written for Mstislav Rostropovich.

Not content simply to tour the war horses, Mr. Ma has branched out into significant endeavors like the fascinating Silk Road Project. Another interest has been Brazilian music. After intermission he and Ms. Stott performed the Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti’s intimate and impressionistic arrangements of “Bodas de Prata” and “Quatro Canto,” works by Cláudio Carneiro, an early-20th-century Portuguese composer.

The program ended with a passionate interpretation of Franck’s Violin Sonata in A, which occasionally veered toward the breathless. The encores included Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour”; “Polo” from Falla’s “Siete Canciones Populares Españoles”; and “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals.”