CPR Classical’s Favorite Recordings: Yo-Yo Ma

We’re not sure how we picked favorites, either.

Few names in music hold as much weight as Yo-Yo Ma: cellist, international superstar, humanitarian and beloved human. With a performance career of 60 years, he has brought life to scores and scores of music. From centuries-old traditional tunes to brand new concertos, Yo-Yo Ma is featured on 120 albums. It’s a heartbreakingly difficult task to pick a favorite recording, but to celebrate Ma’s 66th birthday on October 7, your friends at CPR Classical took a shot at it.

Gershwin Prelude No. 1 from "Three Preludes"

Scott Clemens /Digital and Music Assistant

“You can just tell that Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott are great friends. Both display such musical camaraderie when collaborating in the album 'Songs from the Arc of Life.' A favorite of mine is the quick, jazzy exclamation by George Gershwin. They transcribe his Prelude No. 1 across cello and piano for a day-brightening piece with lots of rhythm and color for *just* a two-minute listen."

Schubert Trout Quintet and Arpeggione Sonata

Marilyn Cooley/Weekend Host

“Schubert's music is so close to my heart, especially his chamber music. And then there are the melodies; transcendent yet so personal and intimate. Both the Arpeggione and the Trout Quintet have been favorites for as long as I can remember. Yo- Yo Ma is my idol, not only for his heartfelt playing, but for his expansion of music to a lifelong dedication to humanity. He's the real deal, musically and as an activist for everyone. When he and his colleagues, especially Emanuel Ax, play these pieces, to me, it's a resonance of beauty and caring that I feel all the way to my bones.”

Songs of Comfort and Hope

David Ginder/Morning Host

“Yo-Yo's ‘Songs of Comfort and Hope,’ released during our ongoing challenging times. It reminds me that Yo-Yo is a great cellist, a great friend, and a great humanitarian who does all he can to help with his music and otherwise.”

Bach Cello Suite No. 1

Jean Inaba/ Evening Host

“This is like being forced to make a Sophie's Choice! Where do I start? If push comes to shove, I choose Bach. Yo-Yo all by himself… no orchestra… no piano…  just Ma alone with his cello. 

Ma has recorded the composer's six suites for solo cello three times over the course of his career. The last time was just a few years back in 2018. I love how he brings out the soul of this very special music. Bach would've been pleased at what he heard. I like the Suite No 1.”

Walton Cello Concerto

Jessie Jacobs/ Weekend Host

“One of my first classical CD’s in high school was Yo Yo Ma’s Elgar/Walton Cello Concertos. The Walton is amazing, especially the second movement. I love Ma’s really cutting, harsh emotional moments, which the Walton shows off so well! Mixed with gorgeous slow melodic bits? *chef’s kiss."

Rimsky-Korsakov Flight of the Bumblebee with Bobby McFerrin

Karla Walker/ Midday Host

“I will never forget seeing the two of them perform this on the ‘Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.’ They had a blast and Yo-Yo had this look of utter delight on his face — a look we have come to know through his many collaborative projects. This recording comes from the CD ’Hush’ that was Ma's first real foray into different territory; in the following years he brought us tangos from Argentina, music from the Silk Road, and traditional American music with his Goat Rodeo gang. ‘Hush’ brought me so much joy back in the early 90's when it came out and continues to bring a smile to my face.”

Shenandoah, arr. Caroline Shaw

Monika Vischer/ Program Director 

“There are so many delicious arrangements on Yo-Yo's recent Songs of Comfort & Hope, a balm for healing during the pandemic. My favorite at the moment is another of his exquisite musical collaborations - an arrangement from Pulitzer Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw, who unearths breathtaking new beauties from the American folk song, Shenandoah.”

Hush Little Baby with Bobby McFerrin

Matt Weesner/ Afternoon Host

“A good memory from my school days: ’Hush Little Baby’ with Bobby McFerrin. This track was on a Sony new releases compilation cassette that I'd somehow ended up with. While I don't remember any of the other music on the tape, I'll never forget hearing THIS for the first time! What a great example of Yo-Yo Ma's collaborative spirit, regardless of genre.”

Six Evolutions: Bach Cello Suites 

Jeff Zumfelde / Music Director

“Ma's third set of Bach Suites from 2018. His first set is ingrained into me because that is the recording from which I learned these pieces. The third recording of the set is my favorite because of the subtle expressive differences.”

To hear favorite Yo-Yo Ma recordings and more, tune in to CPR Classical

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