Yo-Yo Ma

Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center, April 24

With fingers flying and facial features articulating along with each note, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma packed the house for Viva Brazil, an evening celebrating the country’s music. He was accompanied by pianist Kathryn Stott, and they played compositions with a distinctively Latin flair of passion and romance, even though, as Ma joked at the obvious, “Kathy and I are not Brazilian.”

The simplistic beauty on “Milonga en Re” by the Argentinian tango composer Astor Piazzolla captivated an audience so intent on listening, you could hear the pages of sheet music hit the stage as Ma dropped them when finishing a movement. Unfortunately, the music itself was at times barely more audible than the sound of the falling paper, and one was often left craning to hear the quieter notes. A more intimate space may have better suited the performance.

Brazilian brothers Sérgio and Odair Assad on guitar and sazuki (a guitar-like stringed instrument) added flavor. When percussionist Joseph Gramley arrived, he picked up the pace and added complexity to songs such as “Baião de 5.” However, his flamboyant drumming style eventually became a bit distracting.

The masters closed with the beautiful “Back to Our Roots Suite” composed by Sérgio Assad and his daughter Clarice, leaving the audience on a blissful note. ★★★☆☆