The Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax collaborative recital at Symphony Hall last week was the superlative musical event in Boston so far this season. One critic has said of the Paris-born Chinese cellist: ''He plays the cello better than anybody plays anything,'' and Ma's render-ings of Schubert (Sonata in A minor), Hindemith (Sonata, 1948) and Rachmaninoff (Sonata in G minor) did everything to support that accolade.
Ma clearly holds the spotlight, and pianist Ax, for his part, let's him have it - thus the collaboration is not a clash of egos, musical or otherwise. Simply put, the young Ma, who has played since age 4, has conquered the mechanics of bowing and fingering in such a way that the sound seems to emanate without the necessary friction that produces it. Unlike the vicious sawing that characterizes many a string recital, Ma's technique allows for a bare minimum of discernible noise when the bow changes direction, when fingers dance about the neck.
That all this appears to come with consummate ease is another part of the excitement of seeing Ma in recital. If there is something exceptional about Mr. Ax's contribution to all this, it is his sharing of the same musical vision honed through conscientious cooperation in the practice studio.
As pointed out in the program notes, both are winners of the Avery Fisher prizes for outstanding young artists - Ma in 1978, Ax in 1979 - and established solo virtuosos in their own right. That this melding is successful has already been measured by the SRO crowds that have followed their tours and the prosperity of recordings of the same material.