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Yo-Yo Ma

The Essential Yo-Yo Ma

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The Essential Yo-Yo Ma seems to be a presentation of the recordings in which the esteemed cellist has participated that might have the widest appeal to the general market. There's nothing wrong with that. But it isn't too easy to select a "best-of" for an artist such as this, grounded in classical music but adding his talents to forms of popular and world music as well. So this two-disc, 35-track set might not be pure enough for the classical devotee, nor have enough accessible non-classical pieces for the popular music-oriented listener. What it does offer, indisputably, is a lot of the music recorded by the musician between 1978 and 2004, and a lot of different kinds of pieces. Disc one is the more classical-based of the pair, with works by Bach, Vivaldi, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Brahms, and Dvorák (as well as George Gershwin's "Prelude No. 1"). Yo-Yo Ma's cello is placed in diverse contexts here, within orchestras at times of course, but also in settings in which he's accompanied only by a pianist or a few musicians (including, on Rachmaninov's Vocalise, singer Bobby McFerrin). On disc two are tracks that put the cellist's talents into various forms of Latin music (as an accompanist to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Astor Piazzolla), folk (on numbers composed by Mark O'Connor and "Simple Gift," with Alison Krauss as vocalist), traditional Chinese sounds ("Mido Mountain"), soundtracks (extracts from Ennio Morricone's score to The Mission), and even Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" (with jazz great Stéphane Grappelli on violin). The cello playing is stellar throughout and the varying ensembles very well recorded. However, more specialized listeners might prefer individual works on which the artist has performed, rather than an eclectic stylistic assortment such as this. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi

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