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Aspen Music Festival 2002

Lynn Harrell Recital, Benedict Music Tent, Aspen, Colorado, 11th July 2002 (HS)



To say that Lynn Harrell is comfortable at the Aspen Music Festival is something of an understatement. He virtually grew up here while his baritone father, Mack, sang and taught. Now in his sixties, Harrell is one of the world's leading cellists and he spends summers delighting Aspen audiences with his music, which is always thoughtful, sometimes brash and often remarkably good. A couple of years ago, the brashness came out when he inserted everything from Mahler to the Mexican Hat Dance into the cadenza in an otherwise idiomatically ideal performance of a Haydn cello concerto.

There were no such high jinks on Thursday, July 11, as Harrell and violist Masao Kawasaki played an evening of elegant chamber music remarkable for its musical elegance and generosity of spirit. After opening with solo works, Harrell and Kawasaki concluded the first half of the program not with a piece that would feature them but the lovely Mozart Flute Quartet in D Major, which put the emphasis on ensemble playing. The ensemble included Alexander Kerr, the American-born concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Kawasaki's wife, Fumiko, played the flute part. After intermission, three more members of the string faculty joined the principals and Kerr for a satisfying performance of the Brahms Sextet No. 1 in B-flat.

Harrell, who celebrated his recovery from hand surgery by playing the entire set of Bach suites for unaccompanied cello in a pair of concerts here two summers ago, opened the concert with a performance of the third suite. It was a rendition that emphasized delicacy and transparency, even in the difficult passages where Bach calls for triple and quadruple stops, three or four notes at a time. Ironically, Harrell got most difficult passages clean even if the occasional scrape marred the beauty of others.

Harrell started the prelude at a very soft dynamic and kept that sense of restraint throughout, only letting things open up dramatically for those triple- and quadruple stops. The Allemande was lively in tempo yet remained graceful, the Courante fleet, the Sarabande an exercise in making the instrument sing. The famous Bouree lilted with charm, and the Gigue maintained the sense of rhythmic vitality.

Kawasaki followed with an unaccompanied suite for viola written in 1930 by the Yale University composer Quincy Porter. Juxtaposed against Bach's magnificent achievement, the Porter came off as pale stuff, but it did show off Kawasaki's rich sound and deft approach to the viola, which turned out to be an especially fine contribution to the Brahms sextet.

Harvey Steiman

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