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“Works for Cello & Piano”
Robert Schumann: Adagio and Allegro, opus 70 – Fünf Stücke im Volkston, opus 102 – Fantasiestücke, opus 73
Franz Schubert (arr. B. Thornton and S. Myer): Ave Maria, D.839, opus 56, n° 2

Brian Thornton (cello), Spencer Myer (piano)
Recording: Clonick Hall Studio, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio (August 27-28, 2018) – 42’
Steinway & Sons #30117 – Booklet in English

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 M. Myer became a finalist in the Cleveland International Piano Competition. These 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 Stücke 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




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