CLEMENTI: 3 Sonatas, Op. 13; 3 Sonatas, Op. 23; 2 Sonatas, Op. 24; Sonata in C, Op.20; Sonata in F, WO3 – Howard Shelly, piano – Hyperion

by | Jun 23, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

CLEMENTI: 3 Sonatas, Op. 13; 3 Sonatas, Op. 23; 2 Sonatas, Op. 24; Sonata in C, Op.20; Sonata in F, WO3 – Howard Shelly, piano – Hyperion CDA 67729, (2 discs) 122:20 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Clementi had a series of adventures on the continent in the years 1780-83, including a match with Mozart set up by the Emperor Joseph II of Vienna (Mozart said Clementi’s playing had “an atrocious chopping effect”) and a daring elopement with a former student, eighteen year-old Marie Victoire Imbert-Colomes, whose father set off upon the couple and quickly put and end to the attempt (he was a highly placed citizen of Lyons). During this time his music had a particular wildness about it, expounding the sort of technical prowess and attitude that Mozart so loathed. Upon his return to London in 1785, the more genteel composer settled the personality and he was writing piano sonatas of the “accompanied” type (usually the flute, albeit of a highly amateur nature). These Opus 13 pieces reflect some of the travail and distended adventure the composer experienced in the previous three years, though more mature musical structures and concentrated means of expression mark these works, Haydnesque with a touch of near-Lisztian extrovert sensibilities.

The Opus 23 and 24 pieces are more illuminating as to the composer’s rediscovered mannered and orderly life back in London. These works are far more controlled and structurally sophisticated, and may very well reflect Clementi’s involvement with publication and study materials for his many upper class women students, a prime demographic for all composers writing keyboard music in that age. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that a more controlled and sedate Clementi means a less interesting one; these sonatas are all intriguing and ultimately fulfilling, rock-solid in their sense of structural inevitability, and yet constantly invigorating in the surprises they throw at you, truly a crossroads of no mean proportion between Mozart and Beethoven, if never equaling either of those masters. As an aside, this set includes the wonderful B-flat sonata of Opus 24, No. 2, whose opening theme was deliberately taken by Mozart (and acknowledged in writing by Clementi) for the inspiration of the Magic Flute Overture.

Howard Shelly goes from strength in these works, his series gaining in importance with every release, and the sound is excellent.

— Steven Ritter

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