MUSIC REVIEW : Yo-Yo Ma's Everywhere, With Virtuosity

TIMES MUSIC WRITER

One of the happy circumstances of this 1994-95 season is the opportunity for his fans to hear Yo-Yo Ma three times, and in different contexts.

Last week, the celebrated cellist appeared at Ambassador Auditorium in a joint recital with violinist Pamela Frank. Sunday night, he was guest soloist in the annual gala fund-raiser for the American Youth Symphony, at the Pavilion of the Music Center. From April 6 through 9, Ma returns to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to play another concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Sunday, it was the Dvorak Concerto, one of the 39-year-old cellist's signature pieces, and the wondrous collaboration Ma forged with conductor Mehli Mehta & Co. seemed like one of the high points of this concert season.

This was a performance of wide contrasts, thrilling peaks and intimate moments, one in which the ensemble accomplished not only mellow climaxes but also a genuine delicacy of statement--qualities it has not consistently delivered in the past. More important, the total performance, including Ma's impeccable virtuosity and singing tone, clarified solo-lines from within the orchestra and a taut togetherness of thought as well as sound, became fresh and spontaneous--a feat in such a familiar piece.

Noisy and appropriate approbation from the large audience caused an encore. Ma played a Sarabande from one of Bach's solo suites, dedicating it to Tehmi and Mehli Mehta, who, Ma told the audience, were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary.

After intermission, the display continued in the orchestra's bright and high-achievement reading of Mahler's First Symphony--including the sometimes unperformed "Blumine" movement.

With some backsliding, especially in the opening movements, most of this performance worked in terms of continuity, blend and control. Mehta certainly holds a tight rein on his Mahler. With some frequency, however, the orchestral playing reverted to type with cloudy balances, stridency of sound and a general lack of instrumental transparency. High spirits dominated, of course, but sometimes to the point of wildness.

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