Cellist Lynn Harrell is reliable, often brilliant, and this week joins the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for its first performances of the Lutoslawski concerto, one of the most important cello concertos of the 20th century–yet audiences still take him for granted, apparently because he doesn’t have the star power of someone like Yo-Yo Ma. Harrell’s career stretches back to 1960, when at age 16 he made his debut recital; a few years later he became the cello principal with the Cleveland Orchestra, playing under maestro George Szell. Since ’71 he’s been a soloist, a clearheaded and technically impeccable purveyor of the canonical repertoire who’s also made it a point to present less familiar works–at his appearances with the CSO over the past two and a half decades, he’s played worthy but underexposed pieces like Milhaud’s Cello Concerto no. 1, Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso, and Dutilleux’s Tout un monde lontain. Polish avant-gardist Witold Lutoslawski (1913-’94) wrote his Cello Concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich, who first performed it in 1970; since then the piece has grown steadily in stature, and is now regarded as a key work from the composer’s middle period, during which he discarded his experiments in neoclassicism in favor of a style that was more atonal, rhythmically piquant, and harmonically rich. Lutoslawski cast the concerto’s four continuous movements (they’re differentiated by tempo, not separated by silence) as a dramatic struggle between the cellist and a hostile orchestra–Harrell and the CSO, especially its brass section, should be able to make this tug-of-war feel vivid and immediate. Resident conductor William Eddins directs; also on the program are Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade and the overture to Rossini’s William Tell. Thursday and Saturday, March 28 and 30, 8 PM, Friday, March 29, 1:30 PM, and Tuesday, April 2, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Porges.