Bacchi plays Clementi – Sonatas Opp. 1 & 1a – Piano Classics

by | Apr 7, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Carlo Alberto Bacchi plays Clementi – Sonatas Opp. 1 & 1a – Piano Classics PCL10284 (72:15, complete content listing below) (9/12/23) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Carlo Alberto Bacchi (b. 2001) has had piano studies with Roberto Prosseda, Boris Berman, and Bruno Monsaingeon, as well as composition seminars with Mauro Montalbetti and Richard Danielpour. This recording (May 30-31, 2021 and January 4, 2022), Bacchi’s debut, addresses the youthful sonatas of Muzio Clementi (1752 –1832), published in 1771 and 1781, respectively, prior to Clementi’s ascription to have become “the father of the pianoforte.” The pieces date from Clementi’s employment with Sir Peter Beckford in London, products of a young composer essentially an auto-didact. Generally cast in two movements, predominantly in major keys, their playful mood and scoring remains comparative spare in the tradition of the harpsichord; though the later set, published in Paris, by Bailleux, benefits from richer scoring and more pianistic options, such as four-note chords in the right hand and double octaves in the left, technical accommodations formerly unavailable on the harpsichord.

Bacchi has chosen to perform Clementi’s sonatas on a Bösendorfer 280 pianoforte, noted for its potent, clear sound and a timbre consonant with the keyboards of Clementi’s time. With the aid of mentor Roberto Prosseda, Bacchi deepened his grasp of the Clementi style, its phrasing, articulation, and expressive gestures, as indicated in embellishments, harmony, and refrains, all tempered by a sense of the composer’s improvised character in terms of rubato. The initial benefactor of Bacchi’s studies, the Sonata in E, op. 1/1, opens with a pertly spicy Allegro con comodo, set in the dancing figures of a music box. The Alberti bass makes a sporadic appearance, while Bacchi adjusts his touches in degrees of pointed staccatos. The ensuing Tempo di Menuetto combines the grace and courtly charm of Lully, perhaps influenced by moments from Galuppi. We could easily assign its sparkle and balanced phrases to the young Mozart. 

The Sonata in G Major, Op. 1/2 opens Spiritoso, certainly an energetic, martial assertion in delicate scoring. The countertheme is all bright runs over a staccato bass line, ending the cadence with a flippant trill. A legato theme emerges for a moment, a touching espressivo. The light militance prevails, ornamental and processional. The brief second movement, Allegro assai, could have easily been accommodated on the harpsichord’s two manuals as a playful duet. The bass sound from Bacchi’s instrument makes a striking contrast to the flightiness of the upper register. The Sonata in B♭, Op. 1/3 begins Maestoso, etched in staccati over an Alberti bass. Lyrical, delicate and poised, the procession likes to trade dynamics of piano and forte, especially when the bass can end the cadence. Bacchi’s quick trills and grace notes add flavor to the quasi-march sequences, the whole a testament to musical wit and verve. What a difference does the Andantino grazioso provide! Stately and delicate, the music relishes the passing trills that literally grace its step-wise motion. This charmed music might well serve agents for the Bösendorfer 280 pianoforte as a selling point.

The emotional affect shifts dynamically with the Sonata in F, Op. 1/4, a rare, three-movement affair, whose Spiritoso wastes no time in assaulting our senses with its irreverent ff, then moving into more formulaic runs and scalar patterns. The development opts for pp, then once more into light footed filigree, until the fortepiano’s resonant bass can add touches of deeper color. The Larghetto is pure arioso, with a middle section that likes pauses, quick runs, trills, and a stately tempo. The legato Bacchi realizes has a charm that we wish Clementi would encourage with longer periods. The insertion of menuet filigree seems a rhetorical gambit rather than an expressive gesture. The last movement Rondeau, an obvious concession to French taste, proceeds in quick step, its balanced phrases exploiting contrasting dynamics of loud and soft. The degree of ornamentation becomes more rococo in its insistence, perhaps detracting from the innate charm of the occasion.

We return to the two-movement format in Sonata in A, Op. 1/5, which opens Larghetto. By now, the Clementi formula has been well established, with lyrical, arioso melodic tissue’s alternating with step-wise motion rounded by a trill. Bacchi’s delicate touch and easy fluency in ornaments has been already praised. The light second movement, Tempo di Menuetto: Grazioso holds few surprises, and we begin to agree with Mozart’s disparaging appraisal of Clementi as a “mechanicus.” The Sonata in E, Op. 1/6 starts Moderato, much in the fluent harpsichord sonority, light and rhythmically clever. The music comes to a halt, only to resume in the measured runs that now engage richer harmonization. Quick runs and upward steady pulse of this charming, unassuming music. A new episode arises, but it, too, devolves into standard runs and ornaments. 

We enter the world of the 1781 Op. 1a sonatas with that in F major.  In two movements, the piece begins with a gentle Andante, flowing over a punctuated bass and moving to a series of repeated notes and the obligatory ornaments. The delicacy of line keeps is in thrall, the broken figures easily suggestive a follower of the Bach sons. The second movement bears the title “La Pantoufie avec Variations: Allegro,” presumably an invention after the Cinderella story and her glass slipper. Imitative passages, rich chordal accompaniment, and sudden bursts of energy yield to the dainty tune that quietly fades into silence.  The Sonata in BMajor, Op. 1a/2 once more proffers a three-movement structure, beginning Allegro moderato. Delicate, even precious, the music accelerates in an affected, galant style that will find its consummation in the third movement. The runs and shifts of register testify to the music’s affinity with harpsichord scoring. The Andantino grazioso projects a dreamy character, the dynamics soft, the patterns symmetrical and rounded by a trill and a brief run. The last movement, Air du Ballet de Mirza avec des Variations. Allegro takes its tune from a 1779 stage spectacle by Gossec. The variants preserve the usual formula, gaining speed to the coda and then fading out. 

Clementi’s Sonata in G Major, Op. 1a/3 proffers a lopsided structure meant to give the gravity to the second movement. A light, terse, and flirtatious Allegretto sets a series of antiphonal phrases back and forth, energized by quick, ornamented runs.  The “Black Joke” air anglais avec des Variations: Allegro plays with a British, or more likely Irish, folk tune composed by Clementi some six years after his organ debut in London. The 21 variations exploit major and minor modulations and attempt to imitate the hornpipe effect of a rustic ensemble, even a hurdy-gurdy. The influence of Irish song in the last page quite defines the enchantment that requires another hearing. The following Sonata in A, Op. 1a/4 achieves a more conventional balance. The opening Larghetto almost anticipates the color of mood of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” only more ornamental in a broken-melody style. The music opens up into a more expanded narrative, with ripe modulations over an ostinato bass. Clementi exploits the upper regions of the keyboard for a delicate fabric. The Tempo di Menuetto hints at Beethoven once more: this time the parallel movement in Beethoven’s Sonata in G, Op. 49/2. The slight modulations retain the bouncy rhythm, played with cheery dexterity by Bacchi. 

The last of the survey, the Sonata in A Minor, Op. 1a/5 presents the most experimental moment in the collection: in one movement, the piece moves, Allegro, entirely on contrapuntal principles, the ricercare or fugue’s alternating between three and four voices. Bacchi realizes the work with a somber directness of vision, as though offering a dramatic shift of musical and dramatic perspective in our ongoing revaluation of this composer whom Beethoven much admired. 

Gary Lemco

Bacchi plays Clementi:  Piano Sonatas Op. 1 & Op. 1A

Sonata Op. 1, No. 1 in E♭ Major;
Sonata Op. 1 No. 2 in G Major;
Sonata Op. 1 No. 3 in B♭ Major;
Sonata Op. 1 No. 4 in F Major;
Sonata Op. 1 No. 5 in A Major;
Sonata Op. 1 No. 6 in E Major;
Sonata Op.1A No. 1 in F Major.
Sonata Op. 1A No. 2 in B♭ Major;
Sonata Op. 1A No 3 in G Major;
Sonata Op. 1A No. 4 in A Major;
Sonata Op.1A No. 5 in A Minor

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