Brian Thornton / Spencer Myer

Robert Schumann: Works for Cello & Piano

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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.

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