First Night: Yo-Yo-Ma's theatrical air

Yo-Yo Ma



ANYONE SEARCHING out an idealised image of the suffering artist will have been well served at the Barbican in London last night when the cellist Yo-Yo-Ma joined forces with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra for a concert of Rameau, Bach, Boccherini and Mozart.

Rameau came first, his lilting, tuneful and surprisingly warlike Dardanus Suite, where Ton Koopman pounded the harpsichord like a zealous marine drummer and his bassist did likewise by slapping the strings with a pair of bows.

Ma's first act was a sequence of Bach extracts taken from larger works. Best known was the celebrated "Air" from his Third Orchestral Suite (or "Air on the G-string") where the line was lean - Ma uses a bulbous Baroque bow - but the tone tended to be sharp.

Ma is a showman and his repertoire of facial expressions is every bit as distinctive as his playing. The "Air" was arranged as a duet with the orchestra's lead cellist, Jonathan Manson, and Ma slowly shifted his ecstatic gaze from his partner to the centre stalls, eyebrows arched, eyes closed and lips parted. It was like a fashion magazine photo shoot, as was the humble bowed head at the end of "Erbarme dich" from the St Matthew Passion, where Ma sat poised as in prayer.

After the interval, Ma and Koopman collaborated for Boccherini's Concerto in G major, a frothy piece that kept the cellist far too busy for low- key theatrics.

For Mozart's Symphony No 29, again the tone was bright and soft grained, the tempos were fairly swift and the overall approach joyous in the way we have come to expect from one of the classical repertoire's most winning exponents.