Monday, January 29, 2007

Yo-Yo II

Sunday we were treated to a special concert of the Kansas City Symphony, again featuring Yo-Yo Ma on the cello, Michael Stern conducting.

The program was not long in length but long on style and ravishing sound.

The opener was a taught and swift Barber Overture to "The School for Scandal". The performance was technically excellent with just a enough over the top energy to capture the comic nature of the piece. Barber's early work was fitting curtain raiser to the afternoon's program.

Following was the exquisite suite from Ravel's "Ma Mère L'oye" ("Mother Goose"). The suite consists of five movements from the whole work: "Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty", "Hop o' My Thumb", "Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas", "Conversations of Beauty and the Beast" and "The Fairy Garden". This atmospheric work is a jewel that is not often heard. The opening chords of The Pavane were evocatively misty, taking us to an enchanted world from the first notes. Excellent winds and percussion were showcased in the "Empress of the Pagodas", providing lush yet never overstated orientalisms. The closing "Fairy Garden" boasted a sweet violin solo and a well controlled climax, the orchestra providing a grand wash of sound. I wished only to hear the whole ballet and the marvelous music missing from the suite.

The second half of the program consisted of Strauss' tone poem "Don Quixote" which of course features a substantial concertante part for cello. Ma was a wonderfully communicative Don Quixote. Matthew Rombaum, principal violist, performed the important "role" of Sancho Panza to Ma’s Quixote. Rombaum was a perfect foil to the cello and gave nothing away to Ma in his phrasing and tone. The whole work, not my favorite Strauss piece, was well done and communicative, it was easy to follow the various moods and events of the tale.

Everyone noted Ma's ability to communicate and his commanding presence. He frequently watched the orchestra play, nodded in agreement when a passage was well turned, winked and gestured to the players, even as he effortlessly played. M, who came with me on Sunday wondered if Ma was making goo goo eyes at the Concertmistress Kanako Ito. It sure looked that way sometimes. It was refreshing to see the musicians have so much fun and still making suburb music.

The audience called ma back several times and he rewarded them with a movement from the 3rd Bach Cello Suite. With his instrument back stage, he commandeered the cello from the principal cello to use. I wonder if that cello will ever be washed again?!

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