Clasical: Tango the way Ma makes it

Yo-Yo Ma Royal Festival Hall, London

Cellists have rarely been crowd-pleasers, but when Steven Isserlis donned Tavener's Protecting Veil and Yo-Yo Ma partied with Piazzolla, people suddenly started to notice. Ma's Thursday night recital opened to Stravinsky and climaxed to Piazzolla's dazzlingly discursive Grand Tango.

The recital's first half was dominated, musically speaking, by Brahms's heroic Second Cello Sonata, where Ma's lean but small tone strained to out-sing Kathryn Stott's over-prominent piano. The first movement was too fast for comfort, a miscalculation that the hall's unsympathetic acoustic served to exaggerate. Ma's agility was more seen than heard: he'd gaze skyward while his left hand scaled the cello's neck. Brahms's Allegro vivace needs a bigger tone, richer characterisation and more powerful projection, though the Allegro passionata prompted spectacular wrist-work. But if the showman upstaged the musician in the first and third movements, the Adagio affettuoso witnessed a welcome spot of self-communing, with a streamlined thread of tone and some throbbing pizzicatos.

The concert had opened with Stravinsky's Suite Italienne. Again, Stott's virtuosity was more audible than Ma's. The recital's second half kept to the 20th century, with Ma's skilful transcription of Bernstein's Clarinet Sonata offering most in the way of imagination, tonal variety and phrasal sophistication. This was Ma shining resplendent, though his harmless re- working of Gershwin's Piano Preludes saw him loosening up for the last lap.

The closing Le Grand Tango of the Piazzolla sequence was page after page of musical heavy-breathing, just the job for a wine bar, perhaps with cello and accordion and some subtle percussion - but for cello and piano? Hundreds looked on silently where there should have been laughter, dancing, seduction: it was the perfect case-study of a musical mistranslation, although the sheer energy and rhythmic thrust prompted a standing ovation. One wondered what people were applauding - the music, the performance or the concept of a classical artist tackling up-beat cross-over. I'd wager the latter, though Elgar's Salut d'amour and Manuel de Falla's "Polo" (the last of his Seven Popular Spanish Songs) were almost as well received. But only almost. Ma and Stott were recalled twice, then we all turned to leave. If the encore had been more Piazzolla, it might have been a different story.

Robert Cowan

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas