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Lynn Harrell

Today Lynn Harrell passed away. Since I have spent the day listening to his recordings, I thought I’d say a few words about what made his cello playing so unique and special and share some of his recordings.

Harrell was born in New York City in 1944 into a highly accomplished musical household. His father was the well known baritone, Mack Harrell, who sang for many years at the Metropolitan Opera, and his mother, Marjorie McAllister Fulton, was an accomplished violinist and teacher. Harrell joined the Cleveland Orchestra at 18 and became their principal cellist two years later. Seven years later in 1971 he left the Cleveland Orchestra to embark upon a solo career that was

Long before I got to meet and talk with him about music, I had been an ardent fan of his recordings. I found it particularly interesting that our conversations would inevitably wind their way to opera. His enthusiasm for the subject was infectious but I suppose not surprising, given his father’s career. In listening to his recordings today, however, it finally dawned on me that his love of opera went far beyond his father’s connection to the artform.

Harrell’s sound always has an intensity to it that draws you into always wanting to hear what’s next. You’ll end up wanting to hear the whole recording, but listen to the first movement of the Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata, and particularly listen to the second theme, which starts about 1 1/2 minutes in.

I bought this recording when it was released in 1989 and it was the recording that introduced me to these two glorious sonatas, so it holds a special place in my heart. But, in listening to it today, I hear a cellist who is singing through his instrument, adding consonants and vowels to every note he plays.

I think the best way to describe Harrell’s vocal sound production is through sharing a recording of one the great singers of the past. Aureliano Pertile will be another blog post altogether but, for now, listen his recording of Tosti’s Non t’amo più, and listen to how he masterfully takes us from one sound, one word, to the next.

That’s it, isn’t it?!

I found a wonderful video of him playing the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata with Yuja Wang from 2008 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

His first solo recording was made in 1976 and it included the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata, with James Levine on piano.

In the 70’s and 80’s he was part of an illustrious piano trio that included Vladimir Ashkenazy and Itzhak Perlman. Here’s a snippet of them playing together taken from a great film made by Christopher Nupen in 1977.

And here’s their celebrated recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor

Also, their fantastic Beethoven Piano Trio №7 in B-flat Major “Archduke”

His vocal sensibilities also fit perfectly for Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. I love this recording so much!

He left us with many great recordings of the cello concerto repertoire. Here are just a few:

Dvorak — Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104

Bruch — Kol Nidrei

Vladimir Ashkenazy & Philharmonia Orchestra

Victor Herbert Cello Concerto №2 in E minor Op.30, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Sir Neville Marriner Conductor

Edward Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, Lorin Maazel, Cleveland Orchestra