Bruce Hodges hears the performance of Fauré, Dvořák, Assad and Nadia Boulanger at Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall on 12 April 2024 


Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott. Photo: Mark Mann

In the classical music world, few artists can sell out a 2,500-seat hall, but cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott did that easily, with demand adding an extra two dozen or so seats on stage at Verizon Hall. From the opening set – bookended by Fauré’s Berceuse and Papillon, with Dvořák, Assad and Nadia Boulanger in between – the cellist demonstrated the impossibly seductive tone of his 1733 Montagnana, one of three instruments in his arsenal.

For some of us, the Shostakovich Cello Sonata might have been the spiritual heart of the evening, with its interior monologue again benefiting from sheer tonal beauty. But for many in the packed house, Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel was the centrepiece: an icon of simplicity, given an extraterrestrial gloss with photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope projected on a giant overhead screen, courtesy of the artist John Syzonenko.

To close we had Franck’s Violin Sonata in its familiar arrangement for cello by Jules Delsart, which continued the evening’s mellow cast. If the occasion overall had a more subdued air than usual, there was an additional whiff of nostalgia: Ma explaining in his notes that Stott will be retiring from the concert stage this year, ending their four-decade collaboration.

Encores were all but mandatory, and the duo obliged with an appropriately reverent account of Bloch’s Prayer and ending with Cristal by César Camargo Mariano, sending the crowd home on a high of jazzy adrenalin.