Prom 68, Royal Albert Hall, review: Yo-Yo Ma's astonishing tour de force

His entry was grave, relaxed, and immaculately smooth

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The Independent Culture

After Andras Schiff’s Goldbergs and Alina Ibragimova’s oeuvre for unaccompanied violin, Yo-Yo Ma set the seal on the 2015 Proms’ Bach extravaganzas with an amazing two-and-a-half-hour performance of the unaccompanied cello suites.

‘From memory’ said the Radio 3 presenter, but that memory was less in the brain than in the fingers and heart. His entry was grave, relaxed, and immaculately smooth, his bow gliding and dipping as he communicated the music’s implied polyphonies, and the drama of the journey soon broke through.

Yo-Yo Ma performs the complete set of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites at the BBC Proms 2015, in a Late Night Prom on Saturday 5 September (BBC/Chris Christodoulou)

In the ebullient third suite all the action was on the surface, but the second had begun with a mysterious Prelude and closed with a Gigue full of ambiguity. At times he roughened his tone to suggest peasant earthiness, at others he achieved majestic grandeur with double- and triple-stopped chords. But the glory of this performance lay in the Sarabandes, each of which took its suite to its deepest point; after the Sarabande to the fifth – oracular with its dying fall – Yo-Yo sat frozen like a statue, because this had been the music’s heart.

Then this boyish sixty-year-old was off again, encouraging the packed hall to cheer him on for the final lap before playing as an encore the Catalan freedom-song which had been the trade-mark of his great precursor Pablo Casals, and finally dancing off into the shadows.