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Schumann: Works For Cello And Piano / Brian Thornton, Spencer Myer

Release Date: 08/02/2019
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30117
Composer:  Robert Schumann ,  Franz Schubert Performer:  Brian Thornton ,  Spencer Myer Number of Discs: 1

Critics say "cellist Brian Thornton and pianist Spencer Myer are a match made in heaven. They play as one body, one spirit, and one soul." Their third collaboration for Steinway & Sons features passionate performances of works by the great Romantic composer, Robert Schumann.

R E V I E W S:

When Spencer Myer came out with his first Steinway & Sons release back in 2017, the public witnessed just how quickly he set a mood and fashioned William Bolcom’s piano rags “with thought and heart.” Since that momentous release, the Cleveland Orchestra soloist began collaborating with cellist Brian Thornton in 2005, the year that Myer became a finalist in the Cleveland International Piano Competition. These
Read more men bring a new vibrant chemistry to classical music, especially since their mutual love for music by Debussy and Brahms spurred the creation of two CDs and the inevitability to take another next step forward into Robert Schumann’s cello and piano works.

Diverging from the more grandiose symphonic works by Schumann, the CD has turned to more specialized niche pieces, but the individuality places Brian Thornton front and center since Schumann specified opus 70 could substitute horn for cello while opus 73 could replace the clarinet for cello. Modifications were taken into consideration, and the new direction couldn’t be more suitable.

First turning to the Adagio and Allegro, the incorporation of Brian Thornton’s cello permits a stately, distinguished nostalgic calling. Clearly, these musical entrées were devoted to highlight the cello. It’s undeniable that Brian Thornton dialogues on his strings so masterfully that it’s akin to a tender operatic vibrato. Soulful and innately expressive with occasional bouts of colorful excitement will titillate the listener to maximum enjoyment. This clearly couldn’t be given the superior dimension without the deft maneuvers by Spencer Myer.

Occasionally the keyboard takes over the melodic line, but most of the time it is relegated to act as the supportive instrument. For instance, we hear brief spurts within the opening movement (“Mit humor “Vanitas vanitatum” “) from Fünf Stück im Volkston. The ensuing “Langsam” section demonstrates M. Thornton’s silky legato reaches which dreamily meander. Gorgeous! Brian Thornton can switch back and forth with utmost pliability in order to meet Schumann’s requisites with a very intimate involvement. This cellist is adept at tone shading and a carry-forward which breathes more sobriety during the “Nicht schnell.” Fluidity and connection are everywhere.

The most dreamy vestiges fall inside the Fantasiestücke. Brian Thornton truly makes this piece a personal journey and his intimate experience is for the listener to enjoy. The runs dialoguing between piano and cello make the “Lebhaft, leicht” a wispy flight with plenty of fluff to accentuate the beauty of Schumann’s music.

Les Hommes treat their version of “Ellens dritter Gesang” with great sentimentality: expressive, lightly animated without falling into the trap of treacly excess…this aspect is handled by a brisker tempo and a touching energy that keeps the piece moving along. Their conveyance of Ave Maria isn’t disrespectful [to Schubert] by any means. Rather, the manière glides along with a delicate buttress under Spencer Myer’s light keyboard touches that help elevate the heavenly, melodious score dimensions by M. Thornton.

Masterful insight and attentive nuances make the pairing of Brian Thornton and Spencer Myer a keeper during this trip into Robert Schumann’s “Works for Cello & Piano.” Efficacious.

-- Christie Grimstad, ConcertoNet.com

Cleveland Orchestra cellist Brian Thornton is the cellist and Spencer Myer the pianist on Robert Schumann Works for Cello & Piano on the Steinway & Sons label which was founded in 2010 (Steinway 30117 steinway.com).

Thornton has a deep, warm and velvety tone in the Adagio and Allegro Op.70, the Fünf Stücke im Volkston Op.102 and the Fantasiestücke Op.73, ably partnered by Myer.

Schubert’s Ave Maria D839 is a simply lovely, if somewhat unexpected, closing track.

-- The Whole Note

This release is called “Works for Cello and Piano” by Schumann, but in fact only the Fünf Stücke im Volkston was written originally for this combination. The Adagio and Allegro was originally for horn, the Fantasiestucke for clarinet. Schumann would no doubt be pleased to know that trombonists, saxophonists, violists, oboists, oboists d’amore, and probably others have also absorbed the Fantasiestücke into their repertories, while the Adagio and Allegro can be heard in performances by violin, viola, and bass clarinet, among others.

Right from the first notes of the Adagio and Allegro one is taken in by the sheer beauty of tone Brian Thornton draws from his instrument. Elegance and poise also mark his playing, complemented by equally beautiful contributions from pianist Spencer Myer. Thornton’s sound has a lovely sweetness such as is found in few other cellists; if he played nothing but scales one could not help but be entranced by his tone. Take the second of the Fünf Stücke im Volkston (Five Pieces in Folk Style), a three-minute gem that shows Schumann in his most ravishing, Eusebian state of mind—dreamy, reflective, wonderfully poetic. Thornton and Myer capture the mood to perfection; one wants it never to end. Schubert’s Ave Maria is a wonder of sublime simplicity. To do it justice one almost needs not to interpret it, and that is exactly what Thornton and Myer do—they let the music speak for itself.  

My only regret is that the playing time, even with the Schubert piece thrown in, is just 41 minutes, a little over half the potential for a CD. Could Thornton and Myer have not tossed in a few more little goodies? Well, let’s be glad for what we have. Thornton, a long-time member of the Cleveland Orchestra, has also recorded, with Myer as his pianist, the two Brahms sonatas, the Debussy Sonata, and the Brahms Clarinet Trio. I look forward eagerly to hearing more from both of these superb musicians. Bios but no notes.

-- Robert Markow, Fanfare

The cello works of Robert Schumann were originally composed for other instruments. The only ones that started out as cello and piano pieces are the 5 Pieces in Folk Style, Op. 102. Since he arranged the rest himself, no one can complain. These gentlemen play him with warmth, fine intonation, and technical accuracy. The only points that hold me back are Thornton’s rather heavy and unvaried vibrato that tends to overshadow his otherwise meaningful phrasing, and the short length of the program. I make these points only because the competition is strong. You should probably consult the Cello Overview (M/A 2009), or perhaps you should go for Clemens Hagen and Stefan Vladar (Preiser 90780; M/A 2011). But I am not trying to turn you away from this beautifully-recorded program. I will retain it for my own collection.

-- David W. Moore, American Record Guide

Cellists like to bemoan the paucity of repertory for their instrument, but somehow they overlook the pieces on this fine release by cellist Brian Thornton and pianist Spencer Myer, both musicians associated with the musically rich but underrated Cleveland, Ohio, area. True, two of the main attractions, the Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70, and Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, are better known in other versions, for horn and clarinet, respectively, but Schumann explicitly said that either could be played by a cello and indeed they arguably gain from such treatment. Sample the first of the Fantasiestücke, where the intensity resulting from the cello's prolonged residence in its upper register parallels, and is probably preferable, to an inferior horn performance. Another attraction is the set of Fünf Stücke im Volkston (Five Pieces in Folk Style), which perhaps have been ignored because of their seeming simplicity. In fact this is deceptive; although formally simple, the pieces combine subtle treatment of register, passionate melodies, and a full measure of Schumann's pictorial skill. They get superb, strong performances here from Thornton and Myer, who avoid the temptation to tone the music down and make it cute. Another strong point of the recording is the sound. Steinway's engineers abandon their usual northeastern haunts for a studio at Ohio's Oberlin College with fine results; the intimate but not overbearing sound makes it easy for you to put yourself in the shoes of the music's original hearers. American chamber playing at its best.

-- AllMusic.com Read less