Except that it opened one of the four concert series for the 1988-89 season of the Orange County Philharmonic Society, the appearance by Lynn Harrell in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Monday night did not promise to be a special occasion. It looked on paper like a bread-and-butter recital by the American cellist, assisted by a veteran but unglamorous keyboard partner. No big deal.
In the event, Harrell and pianist Brooks Smith--equals in integrity as well as accomplishment--gave a distinguished and touching performance, one that reminded the listener that every recital is only as interesting and faceted as the personalities on the stage. And that true eloquence lies in simplicity.
The team’s program offered no novelties, only carefully considered, immaculately executed readings of three standard works: Robert Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro in A-flat, Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata and Beethoven’s most ubiquitous sonata, the one in A, Opus 69.
Then, to this main course, Harrell added a platter of musical desserts in the form of six short encores. They were, first, two song-transcriptions: Schubert’s “An die Musik” and Falla’s “Nana.” Then, Jascha Heifetz’s arrangement, for cello and piano, of Grigoras Dinicu’s “Hora Staccato,” followed by Schumann’s “Traumerei,” a movement from a sonata by Francoeur and a Nocturne by Chopin.
The joys of witnessing this recital came in the naturalness and easy articulation both cellist and pianist brought to each segment. Schumann’s Opus 70, originally for horn and piano, works handsomely for cello, despite the apparent lack of a cutting edge--usually a virtue--in the sound of Harrell’s instrument. Smith’s well-known dynamic discretion couldn’t help much in this acoustical situation.
Better balances prevailed in Schubert’s A-minor Sonata, on this occasion given a simultaneously aggressive and thoughtful performance, one that detailed an almost surprising number of emotional nuances through the length of the work. A similar approach to Opus 69 found the well-worn pathways of that familiar landscape positively rejuvenated through Harrell’s and Smith’s mellow spontaneity.
The encore portion of the evening benefited from the same gentle seriousness and utter simplicity of statement that illuminated the program proper.