CLEMENTI: Piano Concerto in C Major; Minuetto pastorale in D Major; Symphony in B-flat Major; Symphony No. 2 in D Major – Bruno Canino, piano/ Orch. Sinfonica di Roma/ Francesco La Vecchia – Naxos

CLEMENTI: Piano Concerto in C Major, Op. 33, No. 3; Minuetto pastorale in D Major, WO 36; Symphony in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 1; Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 18, No. 2 – Bruno Canino, piano/ Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/ Francesco La Vecchia – Naxos 8.573273, 58:19  (8/12/14)  ****:

Collectors may recall pianist-composer Bruno Canino (b. 1935) from his many collaborations with distinguished violinists: Salvatore Accardo, Viktoria Mullova, Zino Francescatti, and Itzhak Perlman. His excursion into the rarely performed 1796 Piano Concerto in C Major by Muzio Clementi took place 28-29 October 2012 in Rome. The manuscript exists only in the hand of one Johann Schenk, who supposedly doctored the piece from an original Sonata in C Major, Op. 33, No. 1. In three movements, the concerto exploits various possibilities in the C Major scale, especially in the opening Allegro con spirito. The orchestral tutti displays any number of Mannheim rocket motifs, a forceful balance of brass and tympani, from which Canino makes his entry in a series of flourishes and scalar passages. The sensibility remains brightly lit, a nicely Italianate cross of Mozart and rather formulaic harmonic progressions. The development exploits Canino’s pearly play, but the filigree, rhetorical and predictable, asks little of us except to savor the pianist’s runs and trills. There are moments in the cadenza which might hint at Beethoven, especially the holding of the leading chord until the tutti sweeps us to the coda. 

Clementi did possess a natural fluency of melodic line, so the Adagio cantabile, con grande espessione in F Major projects a lyric sweetness – over a running Alberti bass – that well might have influenced Beethoven. Canino plays mostly parlando throughout, with the occasional trill and upward broken chords. The second movement cadenza could easily be attributed to Mozart or Salieri, if he were plastically inspired. The last movement Presto reasserts a sense of pageantry, decidedly Mozartean in its rondo character. Some pungent colloquies ensue, rather scampering in character, with a touch of Papageno.  Fleet and eminently optimistic, the Concerto in C has provided us luxurious, boisterous entertainment.

Much more in the sturm und drang mode comes the 1819 Minuetto pastorale, whose “I feel pretty” adumbration of Bernstein graced an unpublished Symphony on D Major. Some alternation of major and minor, dark and light, proceeds, marked by a tympani and high flute work.  In its late pages, the music canters and gallops in a more martial mode softened by an idyllic, swaying figure.

There may well be hints of the oncoming Romantic spirit in the opening Allegro assai of the Symphony in B-flat Major (1787), with its aggressive Mannhein style. Thematic leaps and unusual modulations add to the hectic but aerial progressions, to which polyphonic episodes intensify the panoply of colors. Some of late Mozart’s harmonic daring figures into the Un poco adagio, based on two phrases over punctuated strings and winds. The string bass line proves compelling, especially as conductor La Vecchia molds its striking affect to advantage. For the thirds movement, the light-hearted Minuetto finds itself overpowered by its own Trio section. Clementi applies an abbreviated sonata-form for his Allegro assai finale, a rustic affair not far from Haydn’s jaunty spirit.

The Symphony in D Major (1787) announces its grander ambitions in an opening Grave in dotted rhythm, as if Clementi were courting the French taste. With a wit taken from Haydn, the Allegro assai rushes forward, indulging in sudden chromatic and dynamic shifts, the energy rather reminiscent of The Philosopher Symphony (No. 22) of the older master. Passing dissonances and a willingness to play with sonata-form mark the earthy, free spirit of the music. The Andante has seriousness of purpose, but not the melodic invention of those titans, Mozart and Haydn.  The ensuing Minuetto and Trio pits the major theme and its da capo against a minor key trio section. The concluding Allegro assai proceeds affectionately, large, in the manner of “learned” Haydn, given Clementi’s penchant for polyphony and building his secondary tune out of the opening motif. If the rustic tune reminds us of Haydn’s Symphony No. 88, the similarity may not be totally accidental.

—Gary Lemco

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