A sense of quiet magnificence radiates from two master musicians

Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax: Hope Amid Tears

Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax: Hope Amid Tears

The Strad Issue: August 2021

Description: A sense of quiet magnificence radiates from two master musicians

Musicians: Yo-Yo Ma (cello) Emanuel Ax (piano)

Works: Beethoven: Cello Sonatas

Catalogue number: Sony 19439883732

Hope Amid Tears

The title may take on particular overtones in the current pandemic but it stems from Beethoven’s apparent inscription, ‘Amid tears and sorrow’, on the dedication copy of his op.69 Cello Sonata, a work whose positive outlook belied the composer’s inner turmoil at a time when his deafness was complete and Napoleon was invading Austria.

There’s a similar duality in Ma’s and Ax’s performances, which exude natural (often magical) warmth and eloquence, shunning surface effects while being underpinned by a super-attentiveness to details of tonal colour, phrasing, touch and transparency. There’s a quiet magnificence in the room, and it stems from the vast individual experience of these two musicians, continuing a collaboration of over 40 years driven by hunger and curiosity. Ax’s own particular long-standing association with Beethoven shines through at every turn and the recording quality is excellent.

Some may feel a lack of bite and edge here and there, but the poetic element is sublime, as in the Adagio of the First Sonata op.5 no.1, almost breathed rather than sounded; or the entrancing lyricism of the Adagio introduction of op.69’s third movement.

The variations are imbued with the same passion and grace as the sonatas, ending appropriately with the last set (on ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ from The Magic Flute), which opens up the widest range of treatments and expression.