Brian Thornton

Debussy: Cello Sonata; Brahms: Clarinet Trio

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The Debussy Cello Sonata and the Brahms Clarinet Trio, Op. 114 work well together in several ways. They are both late works and reflect a kind of formal purification of their respective composers' musical languages. On a more immediate level, they work well in a billing headed by a cellist; the Brahms trio has an unusually prominent cello part. It begins with a simple cello arpeggio out of which a dense net of late Brahms polyphony unfolds, and cellist Brian Thornton captures a proper inevitable quality here. The Clarinet Trio in general is a fine rendering; balancing formal clarity with an unusually passionate quality led by clarinetist Afendi Yusuf, a Cleveland Orchestra counterpart of Thornton. The Debussy is a unique work within the composer's oeuvre, moving unexpectedly in and out of neo-Baroque textures. Here again, Thornton manages the balance well. Sample the Prologue, which has an ornamented chordal opening that sounds almost as though it could have come from one of Stravinsky's neoclassic works. It soon veers off into a typically Debussyan melody. This passage can sound random, but Thornton keeps it under control. Steinway & Sons here leaves its usual New York venues for a studio at Ohio's Oberlin University; the results are clear and mesh well with the musicians' emotionally lush readings. Recommended, unless you like your Brahms on the dry side.

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