The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Clive Greensmith (cello) Boris Berman (piano)
Composer: Brahms, Schumann

As cellist of the Tokyo Quartet Clive Greensmith brings real chamber-music qualities to the Brahms sonatas, with the cello by turns prominent and the next moment falling away to suit the musical invention. If his selection of such central repertoire for his first solo disc seems a little unenterprising, he and his talented partner Boris Berman at least offer a different timbral palette by using a 19th-century Bechstein to obviate problems of balance. Certainly the piano sounds brighter than normal in the upper registers, although the closely recorded cello tends to diminish the overall dynamic impact.

Since there is no slow movement in the Brahms E minor, there’s an obvious temptation for interpreters to adopt a slower and broader tempo for the opening movement, a flaw in this performance where the development section seems a little laboured in places. Similarly the first movement of the F major perhaps needs a more pronounced delineation of the opening heroic fanfare figure, as well as a firmer sense of drive. Elsewhere in the same work the players are certainly poetic in the Adagio and exciting and fiery in the Allegro appassionata.

Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style is a delightful set of cameos, including a few tricky passages, not least the awkward double-stops in the third movement, which Greensmith masters with ease and a honeyed tone on his 1736 ‘Paganini’ Stradivari. Occasionally both performers could have added a further pinch of character to proceedings, but this duo has an impressively well-honed sense of the idiom and delivers extremely musical performances. 

Joanne Talbot