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PERFORMING ARTS | Recordings

**** "DUOS FOR VIOLIN AND CELLO", Kennedy, violin; Lynn Harrell, cello, EMI Classics

* "CLASSIC KENNEDY", Kennedy, violin; English Chamber Orchestra, EMI Classics

May 21, 2000|MARK SWED

Considering these two recordings together somehow feels like a trap devised by the deliberately provocative Kennedy. "Classic Kennedy" is indeed classic Kennedy, the violinist whose punk look is so '80s and whose new collection of schlock arrangements (many by the violinist himself) of short classical favorites is the kind of atavistic classical and romantic pop mood-music collection you expect to find hawked on late-night TV. To give it a personal touch, Kennedy tastelessly overplays everything.

But then there is Kennedy's searing partnership with Harrell in two 20th century masterpieces for violin and cello--Ravel's Sonata and Kodaly's Duo. Kennedy inspires a rapturous passion from the eloquent Harrell, while Harrell keeps Kennedy in line, but just. That leads to a visceral excitement that immediately ropes a listener in, and to a probing musicianship that keeps one coming back for more. In between comes the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia played with such heat that even this antiquated arrangement of Baroque music suddenly sounds on fire. Already an excellent candidate for one of the best recordings of the year, it--not the contrived classical pop of "Classic Kennedy"--is just the thing to turn on new audiences and keep them that way.

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