The last decade or so has seen the American cellist Yo-Yo Ma turning in a widening gyre away from core classical repertoire and toward the less familiar airspace of World Music, a catchall that makes neighbors of rappers from Marseille and oud players from Lebanon. Ma’s musical flights have taken him from Asia to Appalachia to Brazil and beyond, but for all his exploratory forays, J. S. Bach’s Cello Suites have remained a staple of Ma’s touring program. The Suites are Bach’s only work for unaccompanied cello, a masterpiece companion to his sonatas and partitas for solo violin. Ma has recorded the Suites twice, once in 1983 and again in 1998 (the later recording included a DVD project of six accompanying films).

Certainly Ma’s commitment to and knowledge of the Suites was never in question at Carnegie Hall, where two triangles of additional onstage seating behind the...


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