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Cello Legend: the ASO & Lyn Harrell

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Part of the Adelaide International Cello Festival, the combination of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and visiting US cello master Lyn Harrell may have both pleased and bewildered some patrons.

Familiar favourites Rossini and Brahms sandwiched the fractured, playful work of modern composer Witold Lutoslawski. So it may have been that the program aimed to offer the audience something risky, while leaving them with the comfort and safety of the conventional.

Rossini’s William Tell opera overture was beautifully worked, with wistful cellos introduced over an occasional rumbling portent of percussion. Tension rose and fell deliciously, the atmosphere eventually relaxing into a languid pastoral mood with the woodwinds.

The segue into the storming march passage was abrupt, opening into a stirring rendition of that popular closing section. Conductor Arvo Volmer’s control and evident enjoyment (hence his typical terpsichory) were clear.

Polish composer Lutoslawski’s imaginative Cello Concerto was a piece of a different order altogether. The unusually structured work was first performed in 1970, and on this night featured the guest cellist, Grammy Award-winning Lyn Harrell. Repetitions of single notes in D, as if the player and cello were pausing to consider what to do next, ushered in brief passages that each explored a new mood. As these excursions became extended, the brass section would soon interrupt with a squabbling cacophony, and the cello would take a new direction.

An episode with Harrell’s cello sounding across all the double basses being slowly bowed was very moving, building to a harmonious and accelerating whole as other strings were incorporated.  Eventually, the full orchestra was employed with an effect that was somewhat sinister, even Hitchcockian. If there were an aspect that could be changed, I would have preferred the key cello’s voice to be clearer at times, as it was prone to be lost in the massive sound of the orchestra.

We did get to hear the instrument solo, however, when Harrell played Chopin’s delightful Nocturne in C#m as a much-appreciated encore. It captured the almost human yearning voice of which the cello is capable.

Finally, it was the turn of Brahms with Symphony No 2 in D, Op 73. The very lyrical symphony, with all movements in major keys, has a restrained, darker aspect. The Allegro opening, though lush and melodic, contains an interesting note of aggression. It was livelier and more engaging than the following Adagio, which seemed a trifle smooth on the night. Not so the Allegretto, which varied its pace and offered a bit of a swoon. In contrast then, it felt as if the final Allegro — usually regarded as light — combined charm with almost bovver-boy exuberance.  If it wasn’t actually going to rough you up, it at least wanted you to dance.  That last element was unexpected but welcome.

Something for everyone? It’s a hard act to pull off, but going by the conversations in the foyer afterwards, the ASO, Harrell and Volmer may just have done it.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra performed two concerts with Lynn Harrell at the Adelaide Town Hall on Friday and Saturday nights.

 

 

 

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