Kennedy Harrell - Duos for Violin & Cello

A recital that's a bit like eavesdropping on friends who habitually laugh or cry together. For me, it's Kennedy's finest hour on disc

Author: 
Rob Cowan

Kennedy Harrell - Duos for Violin & Cello

  • Sonata for Violin and Cello
  • Passacaglia
  • Duo
  • (15) 2-Part Inventions, E

Here's a brilliant expiation for crusty old curmudgeons who would tell you that Kennedy's musical priorities are rather to shock than to please.
Kennedy plays into Lynn Harrell's hands as if the two men had once shared a single umbilical chord. Ravel's rarely heard Sonata for Violin and Cello finds them locked in earnest dialogue (as in the first movement) or sparring furiously (in the second), alternating sundry dramatic effects, such as slammed cello pizzicatos and lacerating bowed fortissimos (a Kennedy speciality). They also alternate harmonics (2'40'' into the Tres vif second movement), then bring a veiled brand of poetry to the slow movement (marked Lent and a sure recollection of the Piano Trio's Passacaille, composed some six years earlier). It's an amazing piece, mostly characteristic but with fleeting suggestions of various contemporaries (I swear that's Prokofiev I hear at 1'52'' into the first movement).
I would imagine that Kennedy's interest in various indigenous musics fuels his enthusiasm for Kodaly's earthy Op 7. You can almost see him chuckle at the tipsy folk-tune at 4'32'' into the last movement - even more so when it makes a humorous return at 7'31'' - and Harrell's playing mirrors the mood exactly. I love the drive of their playing, its dry, rasping 'edge', but then the Heifetz-Piatigorsky recording isn't too dissimilar, certainly not from the Heifetzian angle. Kennedy's approach is a little racier than Heifetz's (and of course their individual tones in legato passages are entirely different), freer in terms of rubato, but I still sense a smidgen of influence.
As to the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, there's a Heifetz-Piatigorsky template there too, but this time Kennedy and Harrell employ a very individual brand of fire - teasing, grappling, racing or duetting as if they were playing jazz. Wonderful fun and an urgent candidate for the Replay button, that's if you reach it before the Bach Two-part Invention has started. If it has, you'll end the listening session with a mood of sublime simplicity. You can't really go wrong, either way.'

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