BRAHMS Cello Sonatas
These are consistently deliberate interpretations of Brahms’s two cello sonatas, not only in terms of tempo but in their overall character. The First Sonata begins in a ruminative mood that’s sustained even where other performers allow the adrenaline to surge. Listen at 1'00", for example, and note how Thornton and Myer hold back, as if longingly clinging to a memory; then turn to Isserlis and Hough (Hyperion), who find breathless passion in the same passage. Thornton and Myer are heartfelt, certainly, yet there’s sometimes a distinct lack of expressive detail in their playing. That long note that lies at the crest of the movement’s main motif, for example, can impart so much ache, as Johannes Moser (Hänssler) so movingly demonstrates, yet here it’s subdued into a more generalised melancholy.
At times, Thornton and Myer’s deliberateness can feel ponderous, as in the First Sonata’s Allegretto quasi menuetto with its lead-footed accents on the down-beats. In the third movement of the Second Sonata, on the other hand, their relatively measured tempo and meticulous rhythmic articulation hint at something dark and almost sinister – a marvellous effect and one that suggests a surprisingly close kinship with the Scherzo of the Piano Quintet.
Both Thornton and Myer are admirably conscientious of Brahms’s dynamic markings – despite some overlooked pianissimos in the finale of the Second Sonata – and the performances are perhaps most convincing in moments of quiet introspection. Thornton’s tone is occasionally strained in high-lying passages and there are a few moments of spotty intonation. The recording provides a concert-hall perspective, with plenty of air around the instruments. There is some sacrifice in clarity as a result but one could argue that the slightly hazy sound fits the interpretations’ pensive character.