Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile record trios by Johann Sebastian Bach
Stuart Duncan is out this round, but the musicians otherwise have already collaborated to a great degree with remarkable results in the Goat Rodeo Sessions. In this release, a number of pieces by Bach—mostly all the arranaged variety—are presented by cello, mandolin, and bass (with one exception, where Thile switches to guitar).
There are obvious candidates such as the opening Trio Sonata BWV 530 originally for organ, or the last piece, the Viola da gamba sonata, BWV 1029. The other selections are hand-picked from other organ pieces, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Partita for keyboard #5, and the Art of Fugue.
There's not much to dislike in this release. The richer, deeper bass from a double bass (as opposed to a cello in continuo parts we hear with chamber music) is an nice change. The mandolin sometimes feels weird, but the musicians are sensitive enough with balance to make everything work. It doesn't hurt that Thile is a virutoso on the instrument. The "plucked" sound of the mandolin is close enough to a harpsichord to not sound out of place. Ma plays expressively, but not so much that he leaves a baroque sound world.
I've found myself starting at track 14 so many times, a rather special reading of Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott, BWV 721, which features Thile on guitar. It's perfect. Then they play BWV 1029 with energy and dynamic contast with great success. Then my devices repeat the disc, and BWV 530 finishes the program. Those are the strongest pieces on the recording. They are first class.
The others aren't as strong, but they do give us a nice variety. And since the picked trios from among so many candidates, I hope there's a second volume in planning. These guys play well together and obviously revere Bach.