Hope Amid Tears - Beethoven: Cello Sonatas / Yo-Yo Ma, Ax
A 2021 GRAMMY Nominee for Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance!
Yo-Yo Ma and long-time friend and musical partner Emanuel Ax reunite for Hope Amid Tears, a new recording of Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano, on Sony Classical. Hope Amid Tears presents Beethoven’s five sonatas for cello and piano in the order in which they were composed, tracing an important arc in Beethoven’s development and approach as a composer. Joining them are Beethoven’s three sets of variations for cello and piano. “When we look to music to give us hope for the future, to believe that we can survive and to do good, it is invariably to Beethoven’s,” says Ax. “His mastery of musical craft was second to none, of course, but it is his indomitable spirit in the face of personal tragedy that makes him unique. In this period of world-wide unease, grief, and suffering, it is perhaps fitting that we are also celebrating the 250th birthday of the composer who represents what is best in our humanity.” Ma and Ax have made music together for more than 40 years, recording dozens of albums, earning five Grammy Awards, and performing on stages all over the world. Their friendship is not only rooted in a deep love of music, but also a shared sense of humor and keen perspectives on life’s joys and challenges. Hope Amid Tears is their second recording of the complete Beethoven cello sonatas, after a 1987 effort that earned the duo their second Grammy.
The duo’s rendition of the Op. 5 No. 1 F major Sonata captures perfectly the essence of early Beethoven: lightheartedness gives way to occasional moments of power and fierceness that would become a larger part of the Middle and Late period works. The three variations are a delightful addition to the album. Especially enjoyable is the Op. 12 Variations in F major on “Ein Madchen oder Weibchen," Op. 66 – where Ax infuses it with humor and grace, while Ma brings warmth and lyricism.
For all the wonderful playing here, it’s a shame that the sound balance is not quite up to par. In moments of the F major sonata and Op. 66 Variations, a noticeable weight is placed on the cello. While this amplifies Ma’s already flawless playing, it’s at the cost of the piano, which seems relegated to a farther corner of the room. Ax, too, has so many nuances to offer which would do well to be better featured. This small misstep aside, the album is a testament to Ma and Ax’s unparalleled musicianship, and proves that even the finest of musicians get still better with time.
– The Classic Review
Catalog Number: 19439883732