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Disc review: Yo-Yo Ma, Songs From the Arc of Life

Classical

Yo-Yo Ma, cello

Kathryn Stott, piano

Songs From the Arc of Life

[Sony Classical]

3.5 stars

The premise of this disc is irresistible. “A life is an arc of experience, from beginning to end and all the notes in between,” the jacket purrs. “‘Songs From the Arc of Life’ is a musical journey ... a window into our universal adventure through life and time.”

Actually more than a few of these 19 short selections fall squarely into the “greatest hits” category. Kathryn Stott and Yo-Yo Ma play the Bach/Gounod and the Schubert Ave Marias; the Brahms “Lullaby” and Saint-Saens’ “The Swan.” Between, though, there are a few sweet surprises: Faure’s “Papillon”; Elgar’s “Salut d’amour”; Delius’ Romance for Cello and Piano and some Fritz Kreisler you don’t hear every day. There’s even Messiaen’s “Louange a l’eternite de Jesus,” and if this packaging doesn’t convert you, nothing will.

The best surprise is the stream-of-consciousness conversation in the booklet between the musicians about the music.

Stott to Ma about Tchaikovsky’s “Valse sentimentale”: “The other day, when we were playing this piece, you actually couldn’t stop. It takes you somewhere and you almost don’t want to return.”

Ma: “It’s like those films, like Fassbinder. A cabaret in the 1920s, a kind of smoky room.” Gado’s “Tango Jalousie” leads into a conversation about jealousy.

Stott: “It’s very seductive at the end, so there’s a complex, intertwined double emotion of seduction and jealousy.”

Ma: “And, at the end, we just go – ‘It’s over!’”

Those are just brief excerpts. There are actually a lot of revealing observations. I like the story of these two musicians’ friendship. They met in 1978 when the cellist and his wife, Jill, subletted an apartment in London, but no one told its occupant, Stott. She came home and found Yo-Yo Ma in her living room practicing. It was the start of a beautiful musical friendship. With its human interest aspect, this disc would make a nice Christmas gift.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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