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.