Harrell's cello sings Shostakovich

May 27, 1994|By Kenneth Meltzer | Kenneth Meltzer,Special to The sun

Many famed instrumentalists have received guidance and inspiration from great singers. Pianist Vladimir Horowitz proudly admitted that he often listened to opera recordings for insights into performing the lyrical works of composers such as Chopin and Schumann. Few, however, can boast the direct vocal lineage of cellist Lynn Harrell, who appeared last night with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Dmitri Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto.

Harrell is the son of famed American baritone Mack Harrell. The cellist readily acknowledges that he is an avid student of the recorded output of his father and other great singers and, in fact, attempts to incorporate a highly vocal approach into his playing. This cantabile aspect of Harrell's artistry was plainly in evidence at last night's concert.

The Shostakovich Concerto is an angular, dissonant and even caustic work. Yet from the breathtaking legato of the opening phrases, it was clear that Harrell intended to reveal the less obvious beauty of the score. In addition to a consistently mellifluous singing line, Harrell demonstrated a breathtaking ability to present a kaleidoscope of instrumental timbres. All of this was accomplished within the framework of a performance that handled all of the technical hurdles (this piece was composed with the talents of Mstislav Rostropovich in mind) with total assuredness.

Maestro David Zinman and the BSO provided superb accompaniment. It is almost impossible to believe that Mr. Harrell's most recent performances with the BSO prior to last night were in 1979. While one would hope that another 15 years will not elapse before his next appearance, don't miss the opportunity now to hear a supreme instrumentalist at the height of his technical and interpretive powers.

The all-Russian program opened with Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov's "Caucasian Sketches." While this performance did not exhibit the same precision as the BSO's rendition this past November, the concluding "Procession of the Sardar" was as invigorating as it should be.

The rich and sharply accented opening movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances" made this listener regret all the more that deadline prevented hearing the final two sections.

Zinman and the BSO also presented "Nimrod" from Elgar's "Enigma Variations" in memory of George Aranow, the orchestra's recently departed personnel manager.

Performances conclude this evening, with Rachmaninoff's Third Symphony replacing his "Symphonic Dances" on the program. Both Rachmaninoff works and the "Caucasian Sketches" will be recorded this weekend by the BSO for the Telarc label.

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