Times Music Writer

In every way save the efficacy of their teamwork, Lynn Harrell and Rudolf Firkusny are the odd musical couple.

Harrell, the 41-year-old American cellist, and Firkusny, the 73-year-old, Czech-born pianist, don’t look like a duo. The former is oversize in tone, projection and height; the latter reserved, compact and understated. Their separate training and careers overlap at no point. And between them, there must, or at least should, exist one great generation gap.

Nevertheless, Harrell and Firkusny, each of whom has by himself made recent recital appearances on our local turf, made yet another--this time with each other, and for the first time locally--Thursday night in Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.


In a program of sonatas by Debussy, Brahms and Beethoven, plus Janacek’s “Fairy Tale,” the two musicians displayed their individual, and considerable, strengths in tandem. Theirs is not a partnership of accommodation or politesse; they play together impeccably, but without sentimentality.

Thus, one found, in the performance of Debussy’s Sonata, which opened the evening, a coincidence of stroke and measure, but little meshing of lines until the finale. And in Brahms’ problematic Sonata in F, Opus 99, a first movement in which separate approaches coexisted neatly, but not quite comfortably.

As this provocative evening wore on, however, its two principals seemed to grow closer. Brahms’ slow movement, carefully gauged and manicured, made all its points cohesively, as did the following Scherzo. And the finale, taken at an unorthodox but expansive and deliberate pace, sang forth in matching voices.

Janacek’s “Fairy Tale” elicited from both players exquisite lightness, perfect dynamic control and gossamer textures. And solid authority, as well as all the requisite grace and mischief, emerged in their performance of Beethoven’s G-minor Sonata, Opus 5, No. 2.

The first encore proved to be, with the Janacek piece, one of two highlights of the evening. It was the Largo from Chopin’s Sonata, Opus 65.