Picks and Pans Review: Bach: the Unaccompanied Cello Suites

updated 02/13/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/13/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

Yo-Yo Ma

Don't be prissy with this one. Twist up the volume knob liberally. Douse the lights. Then revel in the oceanic tug of Ma's cello: the astringent bite of bow on strings, the cathedral sonorities, the penetrating vibrations (vibes, literally), the seamless, singing flow of burnished sound. Along with the Brandenburg Concertos and the violin concerto, these six suites date from Johann Sebastian Bach's tenure as Kapellmeister at Cöthen, Germany from late 1717 to 1723, when he was in his 30s. What Bach put up with to get the job would have made baseball's former reserve clause look enlightened. When passed over for promotion to leader of the Weimar Orchestra, Bach looked to another city, and Prince Leopold of Cöthen recruited him for his orchestra. When word got back to Weimar, Bach was arrested and confined for several weeks until Weimar ruler Duke Wilhelm August sprung the slick-fuguing phenom. Bach thrived at Cöthen, a fact these cello suites testify to. (And Ma, 28, who is Chinese, plays magnificently.) As Johann Forkel, Bach's first biographer, wrote in 1802, "He has so combined in a single part all the notes required...that a second part is neither necessary nor possible." (Columbia)

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