Review by georgeflanagin April 17, 2007 (3 of 4 found this review helpful)
|ADHD Summary: Yes, Virginia, other composers besides Bach wrote music for solo 'cello. This disc is a well conceived sampling of 20th Century works, with one major recording problem that less than 10% of listeners will detect. This disc is often on sale for $9.99 as a "cut out," and yet it is worth the full freight price.
Why this disc now?
I recently conducted a major amnesty in our house, returning many SACDs to their rightful places in the collection's shelf space. I grabbed a handful of discs to see which ones had, and had not been reviewed on these pages. I noticed that neither of the previous reviews of this disc were by enthusiasts of the music, so the review you are reading seemed called for.
I intend to review Ma's /obrigado Brazil/, and then return to choral music with a review of Victoria's /Ave Regina Caelorum/ and Volume 31 of the interminable-but-thoroughly-whoop-ass Suzuki Bach Cantata series.
I usually do not start my reviews with the sound. The disc opens with O'Connor's /Appalachia Waltz/, which is a digestible short work. Unfortunately, track 1 is marred by a loud air conditioning rumble that also has a negative effect on tracks 10 and 11. The rumble is above 20Hz, which means that reworking my crossover to engage the 20Hz, 18dB/octave high pass filter did no good.
The disc is best enjoyed on my system by turning off the low frequencies altogether, and feeding the Quad 988s everything above 45Hz in the normal through-the-crossever way.
I do not want to get flamed again over a negative review of the sonics, particularly when only listeners with real bass response are going to notice the above directly -- as an acoustic rather than an electrical phenomenon. However .... , can recording engineers not notice the sound?
Let's suppose the air conditioners, truck rumble, and personal favorite -- the train running under Henry Wood Hall -- do not make sounds that find their way into the ears of most listeners. Why not engage some kind of high pass filter when recording a solo instrument whose lowest note is 65.4Hz (when using standard concert pitch)?
Whether or not the noises can be heard, they:
 Are not musical sounds; not a part of the composition.
 Burn amplifier power, particularly when the speakers converge toward very low-Z at notes lower than they are designed to play.
 Intermodulate with the authentic music.
So ... there's the flame-bait. Take it up in the discussion section.
I am not usually a fan of sampler discs, but Ma's collection of modern solo 'cello works is an exception. I am also not usually a big fan of "Ma's music because he is cool guy," like many Americans are. This disc is clearly material he likes. One of the things I find enjoyable about the presentation of this disc is that there is a method to the order of the pieces, and that order encourages the listener to sit and listen to the disc as if it were a concert.
O'Connor's piece is my least favorite on the disc -- I just do not find it involving.
I first encountered Bright Sheng's music in Seattle about two decades ago, and I attended a lecture by Sheng. These are charming vignettes of various moods, and somewhat similar to the fare offered by the other Silk Road Project albums. I should note that /all/ of the pieces on this disc has a slightly "eastern" sound to them, primarily through the employment of "eastern" scales and unusual modes.
David Wilde's /The Cellist of Sarajevo/ is up next. It will remind some people of the novels /Dhalgren/ and /Finnegans Wake/, probably more the former than the latter.
Tcherepnin's Suite is very short, and its six or so minutes of very distilled music have to me a slightly Sibelian sound, as if Tcherepnin might have rescued this piece from the fireplace at Ainola.
And finally we come to the monster: the /Sonata for Solo Cello/ by Kodály. THIS IS WHY YOU BUY THE DISC, and what a fine piece of music it is. The aforementioned air conditioner does not intrude, but there are silences between the tracks where the concert hall ambience collapses for a few seconds between tracks. If you are, like I was, "lost in the music," this is a jarring event.
The Kodály sonata is a complex work that deserves to be compared in depth and scope with the Bach Suites. There are plenty of folk melodies wrapped up in rich, early 20th Century harmonies. If you like the Debussy sonata for Piano and Cello, you will like this work.
Reflecting on the 28 minutes of stunning music, I find myself wondering why the Britten sonatas get recorded over and over, and the Kodály is relatively more difficult to acquire.
Good disc. Music you probably don't have, but will enjoy. The sonics are fine if you do not own or do not engage the subwoofer.
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