At first listen, Simply Baroque II appears to be a collection of over-romanticized interpretations of works by Bach and Italian composer Luigi Boccherini. However, Yo-Yo Ma and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra surprise in bringing a welcome tenderness to the chorale favorites presented here, making the album a good starting point for anyone interested in exploring the realm of period interpretations.
Ma performs on a 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius, the bridge pin and strings of which have been altered by Charles Beare to retain a sound more akin to a period instrument. In addition, Ma performs with a baroque bow, which makes the sound of his cello more intimate and less forceful.
The tempos here are usually quite brisk, with the orchestration showing appropriate restraint. Ma is wonderfully paired with trombonist Charles Toet on Sleepers, Awake! (RealAudio excerpt), a perennial favorite that's punctuated by an alternating tempo and gracefully tailored phrase endings. Ma scales back slightly on his vibrato, with the use of the baroque bow adding a needed lift and bounce to his bowings. His commitment to precise interpretations is borne out in a delightfully buoyant reading of Sheep May Safely Graze (RealAudio excerpt) that sees the cellist supported by Reine-Marie Verhagen and Heiko ter Schegget on recorders.
As on the first installment of Simply Baroque, a pair of Boccherini cello concerti are paired with the Bach chorale collection. The highlight of this pairing is the Concerto in Bb Major, D. 482, with the first movement cadenza (RealAudio excerpt) showcasing Ma's stunning technique.