The ability to communicate a wide variety of musical styles is given to few; far fewer are those who maintain the most scrupulous of classical traditions over a period of four decades, extending through the realms of Bluegrass, Jookin, and beyond. Thursday evening at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, Matías Tarnopolsky and Cal Performances presented Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott in recital, the first of three Bay-Area performances this month.
The duo’s performance was as delightful a musical evening as any that this listener has attended in recent memory. Ma is a seasoned and comfortable performer, capable of rendering moments of exquisite beauty and rare expression. The audience loves him for it, and he does not force anything. With a wave of his bow, this consummate musician creates multi-layered textures, a variety of tone that conjures peaceful, vivid images in one’s mind.
Olivier Messiaen once explained himself as a “sound color” composer. Ma’s delivery of ‘Louange à l'éternité de Jésus’ from the Quatuor pour la fin du Temps was a study of the wide variety, emphasizing the numerous facets and proper uses of a beautifully refined singing tone. Ma neither charms nor coaxes his audience with flashy, extra-musical movements, but his stage presence is nevertheless considerable. In live performance, his powers of communication are unique and undeniable, even amicable. This listener was moved by the delivery and beauty of Villa-Lobos’ ‘Alma Brasileira’, where Ma’s unique rhythmic phrasing and Stott’s technique held us spellbound, evoking the dance and fantastic elements of Brazil.
Ma’s accompanist deserves some mention at this point. Stott revealed a marvelous palette of sound, a technique capable of sustaining the moods and rhythms of the cellist throughout the evening. Manuel de Falla’s gorgeous Canciones Populaires Espanolas (1914) found Stott’s musicianship most admirable and dependable. In the wonderfully attractive ‘Jota’, Stott’s voicing of chords and rhythmic figures were pronounced and agreeable; the ensuing lyricism was supported by beautifully executed eighth notes that added stability to the piece.
The most convincing offering of the evening, however, was the last item on the program: Brahms' Violin Sonata, Op. 108 in D minor. Premiered in 1888 with the composer at the piano (Jenö Hubay was the violinist), the work appears to have brought out the full intensity of Ma’s concentration. The Adagio revealed a most thrilling sound, long remaining in the inner ear of the listener, and the the solemnity and nostalgic mood of the celebrated movement were captured brilliantly. The tension and sense of urgency in Ma’s tone resonated with the audience in the Presto agitato, where Stott’s virtuosity was unfailing through the recapitulation.
The pair offered several encores to appease the audience: the first was ‘The Last Song’ by Clarice Assad, daughter of Sergio Assad (a professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music), who was in attendance. The musicians concluded the evening with Camille Saint-Saëns’ ‘Le Cygne’. Audience members were seen leaving the hall in tears after that number.
Our recent interview with Yo-Yo Ma can be found here.