CD of the Week: Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, & Edgar Meyer: Bach Trios

May 1, 2017

An album that elicits a considerable amount of excitement, the new "Bach Trios" album with Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer is an instant classic and a must listen.

There is a huge range of possibility in Bach interpretation, from the revisionist, almost authorial approach (Busoni or Glenn Gould) to the scholarly and historically informed (epitomized by John Eliot Gardiner). There's much to be gained from both schools, and, wisely, the Ma/Thile/Meyer trio finds its voice somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Here, drawn in by the directness of the music itself, it's entirely possible to lose oneself for long stretches, just listening. - Timo Andres

Bach albums are a dime-a-dozen. Articles about Bach albums that begin with statements referencing the vast volume of Bach albums in the world are also a dime-a-dozen. Less common, though, is a Bach album like this.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, mandolinist (and MacArthur Genius Grant winner) Chris Thile, and bassist (and fellow Genius Grant winner) Edgar Meyer have played together for decades, each known for their superlative talent and wide-ranging musical interests. What makes this new Bach album unique is that it, like them, is infused with a healthy dose of non-classical pedigree.

Yes, each musician has in his own right a long-standing background in classical. But each is also know for his diverse musical interests:

Chris Thile is primarily known for his folk/bluegrass-inspired groups Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, as well as being the successor to Garrison Keillor as host of A Prairie Home Companion.

Edgar Meyer's output is just a much weighted towards bluegrass, folk, jazz, and new music as it is towards classical repertoire, always with an otherworldly proficiency and alluringly nimbleness counterintuitive to the size of his instrument.

Yo-Yo Ma is arguably the most famous musician of the bunch, and of the three the most frequently to be found seated in front of an orchestra. Nevertheless he spends much of his time with his global music initiative, the Silk Road Project. 

The result of this multifaceted group playing Bach is an album that cannot be pigeon-holed. It is willing to color outside the lines. There is no question that a shared reverence and awe for Bach's genius flows through the project, but there is also a casualness, making this album closer to "Bach for the back porch" than "Bach for the concert hall" (or museum).  The album is never sloppy, but there is a swing to the playing that is Bach unapologetically untethered.

Whether your library overflows with Bach albums, or this is your first one, you will not be disappointed in adding it to your collection. 

Watch a trailer:

For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.

Track listing:*

1-3. Trio Sonata No. 6 in G Major, BWV 530
4. Prelude No. 19 in A Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 864
5. Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645
6. Fugue No. 20 in A Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, BWV 889
7. Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639
8. Prelude No. 18 in E Minor, BWV 548
9. Fugue No. 18 in E Minor, BWV 548
10. Passepied from Keyboard Partita N0. 5 in G Major, BWV 829
11. Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter, BWV 650
12. Contrapunctus XIII: "Rectus" from The Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080
13. Contrapunctus XIII: "Inversus" from The Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080
14. Erbarm dich mine, o Herre Gott, BWV 721
15-17. Sonata for Viola da Gamba No. 3 in G minor, BWV 1029

*All works arranged by Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer