Baby Got Bach?

So I was talking about Bach to someone who actually knows about this kind of music at work, and he told me that the Yo-Yo Ma album I’ve got is “infantile”. Not knowing what he meant by that, I questioned him for awhile, but he couldn’t really explain it such that I could understand it, seeing as how he understands the vocabulary of classical music criticism, and I don’t. He did say that his teacher would hate Ma’s version of the Cello Suites, that Ma was really bad at interpreting other people’s works, but that he liked the stuff he’s composed for himself. He mentioned that child prodigies, which I assume Ma was, are often really good technically but had trouble going beyond that (meaning, I assume, that they lack “soul”). He recommended I check out Pablo Casals’s version of the Cello Suites instead.

So I got the Casals version tonight, and it’s very apparent how different they are. The Ma version is very smooth and polished, very serene, very pretty. The Casals is rough, notes seem to jump in and out all over the place. The hard accents make the songs seem very jumpy and chaotic wherein the Ma versions smooth over most of that and you get a very mellow tune. This extends to the recordings as well. The Casals was recorded in the 30s, so obviously the sound is going to be rougher, you can even hear a hiss in the background throughout the album.

Is this enough to make Ma “infantile”? I wouldn’t think so. Not unless you think mellow is infantile, which i suppose some people could. But that seems more like a political opinion than a useful bit of music criticism. So I guess I’ll just assume I’m missing something.

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