Yo Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Cho-Liang Lin,
Haydn: Three Favorite Concertos
(Sony Classical, 2003)

You can't imagine how badly I want to give this CD a rave review. There are few musicians I admire so much as Yo Yo Ma and I have come to expect the highest quality from anything bearing his name.

I suppose if quality is determined by technical excellence, certainly this sampling of three Haydn concertos (plus one bonus, "Concerto for Piano & Strings") lack for nothing. The selections are played with incomparable skill and elegance, and they are a pleasure to listen to.

My complaint (and perhaps I am unfairly demanding) is the lack of imagination. In every other example of Ma's work with which I am familiar, his touch is immediately obvious, a distinctive style which could be mistaken for no one else. But this could be anyone -- a tremendously talented instrumentalist to be sure, but still nothing that could not be attributed to many others.

As for Wynton Marsalis, well, he might as well not even be there. There is some very nice trumpet playing, but the style is all Haydn's influence. Of course, in most cases with classical music that is what is to be expected, even desired. But I believe that between these two men who have carved their own distinct -- not to mention nontraditional -- niches in popular music, a bit more is wanting.

Violinist Cho-Liang Lin is a graduate of the Julliard School, where he now holds a faculty position. He maintains a reputation for innovation, as well as advocacy for contemporary composers. In 1997 he founded the Taipei International Music Festival, the first of its kind in his native Taiwan. Other classical music contributors to this recording include the National Philharmonic Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra and the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, featuring pianist and conductor Emanuel Ax.

I must admit disappointment, though I hate to say it.

Be assured that while I focus more on what deviations from the common style I would have like to have heard, for the traditionalist there is nothing about which to complain. If you are searching for a familiar Haydn, with excellent composition and flawless performance, then this makes a very wise buy.

If, like me, you enjoy the more interpretive style of Ma's collaboration with Bobby McFerrin on Hush (Sony, 1992), then it is likely you will find this by-the-book version a bit of a let down as well.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 30 October 2004