Lynn Harrell and Friends Serve Up Musical Magic
By Marc Shulgold
Quite a coup for the Colorado Chamber Players to enlist the services of internationally renowned cellist Lynn Harrell. Not only was he present for an exceptional concert on Saturday April 14th in Bethany Lutheran Church – Harrell generously starred in all three works.
The program culminated with a sterling performance of Schubert’s sublime String Quintet in C, as Harrell and fellow cellist Beth Vanderborgh were joined by violinists John Fadial, Jennifer Ross and violist Barbara Hamilton (who also serves as artistic director of CCP). The expansive Quintet stands as one of chamber music’s most beloved masterpieces, miraculously composed in the last two months of Schubert’s life. It’s also one of the repertoire’s most difficult works, requiring from each of its five musicians soloist-level playing and the highest degree of concentration.
From the hushed opening chords, growing majestically out of silence, the ensemble played as if with a single voice, the two cellos and then two violins soaring exquisitely through the First Movement’s unforgettable theme. The gorgeous Adagio unfolded with a wisely chosen tempo – not too fast, but just slow enough to maintain momentum and keep our focus on the subtly emerging melody. The final two movements bubbled with confidence, each of the numerous transitions managed with solid control. No surprise that the audience, clearly engaged in Schubert’s heavenly music, barely made a peep during the performance.
Earlier, Harrell and company were joined in a fine reading of Brahms’ First Sextet by violist Paul Primus (more often heard as a violinist with the CCP and Colorado Symphony). This spirited work, written before the composer turned 30, is rarely heard, thus providing a welcome introduction for many in attendance. Here was sumptuous, light-as-air ensemble work, led by Harrell’s richly colored, effortless playing. His cello, incidentally, was built in 2008 by Christopher Dungey of Grand Junction – modeled after Harrell’s 1720 Montagnana instrument.
As a special treat for cello enthusiasts, Harrell sat alone center stage and played Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. Seemingly not bothered by Bethany’s enormous space, he played some passages with the softest of sound, elevating to a semi-forte as dramatic contrast. Rather than rush through the familiar opening Prelude, he chose a tempo that nimbly projected the ever-shifting flow of those arpeggio chords. Once he arrived at the jolly Gigue finale, it was clear that the cellist understood the dramatic sweep of the work, in a reading that became a journey through the magical world of Bach’s genius.
The program was repeated as part of the CelloFest at the University of Wyoming in Laramie on Sunday April 16th, in the Buchanan Fine Arts Center. Mr. Harrell taught several master classes throughout his visit, and coached cello and chamber music students from the Denver Young Artists Orchestra, Denver School of the Arts, CU/Boulder and the University of Wyoming.