Lynn Harrell’s playing evidences a profound and committed connection with music of different styles, perhaps reflecting the influence of his most renowned teacher, Leonard Rose. As with Rose, Harrell’s reputation as a pedagogue has equalled his popularity as a solo player and his contribution to cello studies in the USA and England has been enormously significant.
Harrell’s 1985 Bach Suite, BWV 1008 leaves one in no doubt as to his sincerity, but the steady tempi of the opening Prelude with an oddly unclear and tremulous sound, and the rather dry tone in the Courante, will perhaps not suit more recent tastes. Period phrasing techniques are not really in evidence, but there is a profundity to this performance that draws the listener in. The same can be said, at the other end of the stylistic spectrum, concerning Joan Tower’s Music for Cello and Orchestra (published and recorded in 1984) which is performed with great confidence and conviction by Harrell, who advised the composer in respect of bowing and phrasing.
Harrell’s sound is very much in the modern mould, but he is not averse to manipulating this to suit different repertoire. Some recordings are very closely miked, allowing rather too much surface noise and lack of tonal clarity at times, particularly in the lowest reaches of the instrument. The Rachmaninov Sonata (1984) is unexceptional in its middle movements, but the outer ones evidence expansive playing: there is an enthusiastic engagement with Rachmaninov’s extrovert writing that makes this a rousing performance. The Walton Concerto under Rattle’s baton in 1992 is one of Harrell’s finest performances on record, with superb colouration by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra supporting a sparing, almost dry approach by Harrell that shows considerable insight into Walton’s ambivalent expressivity. This considered approach is employed equally in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2 (2005) but can result in a ponderous delivery, robbing the second movement of the intensity of Rostropovich’s famous interpretations. Schumann’s Concerto (1981) receives a sensitive reading, including Harrell’s well-written cadenza.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)