CLEMENTI: Piano Sonata in D Major, Op. 40, No. 3; Piano Sonata in F Sharp Minor, Op. 25, No. 5; Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 24, No. 2; Piano Sonata in B Minor, Op. 40, No. 2 – Nikolai Demidenko, piano – Helios

by | Aug 4, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

CLEMENTI: Piano Sonata in D Major, Op. 40, No. 3; Piano Sonata in F Sharp Minor, Op. 25, No. 5; Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 24, No. 2; Piano Sonata in B Minor, Op. 40, No. 2 – Nikolai Demidenko, piano – Helios CDH55227, 68:42 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:

Two generations ago, few pianists besides Vladimir Horowitz, Artur Balsam, and Robert Goldsand played the music of Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), in spite of the esteem accorded him by his contemporaries, especially Beethoven. Thoroughly at home with the pianoforte, Clementi exploited its full range of colors in forms he evolved from Scarlatti, Haydn, and C.P.E. Bach.  The 1802 Sonata in  D, Op. 40, No. 3 bears close resemblances to Beethoven’s own so-called Pastoral Sonata, Op. 28. The sheer fluency of the right-hand part advocates for Clementi’s skills in arpeggio, pedal point, chromatic modulation, polyphony, and the stile brilliante. His capacity to write a tender, lyrical melody is no less evident, as in the childlike Allegro con molto espessione.  The finale transforms otherwise formulaic Alberti figures into dazzling runs and aggressive filigree. A kind of dialogue for the two hands ensues, playful in the Italian manner and certainly reminiscent of Beethoven’s Op. 31, No. 3.

The Sonata in F Sharp Minor (1790) opens in the manner of a fantasia: dolce, and its filigree points to Scarlatti or Soler, rife with passing dissonances and off-beat sforzando effects.Some echo passages will influence Beethoven. It moves in unexpected directions, such as to C Sharp Minor, and the music at the recapitulation develops again, a device Brahms would exploit. The eight-note melodic pattern has a melancholy tinge. The B Minor Lento e patetico belongs to the empfindsamkeit school of expression – a plaintive, martial song with a diminished seventh. A quick transition to the major tonality provides sunshine. The movement rivals Haydn for its irregular, dynamically explosive beauty. The Presto is in 3/8, a blend of Mendelssohn, Scarlatti, and Hummel in glittery thirds and fairy octaves. Any casual listener to Demidenko’s silken realization would guess he was listening to bravura improvisation by Mendelssohn.

The 1781 B-flat Major Sonata, which opens with exactly the same running figures in Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute, is pure bravura. Mozart was in the audience at its Vienna performance by the composer and pronounced Clementi a good right-hand player but a mere mechanicus. Demidenko adds his own cadenza for the first movement. A closing figure reminds one of Mozart’s F Major Concerto, K. 459. The expressive Andante, with its tripping figures and chromatic scales, is in the dominant. The Rondo fnale cuts loose running and barely stops for breath, an old Horowitz staple.

Finally, the iconoclastic Sonata in B Minor (1802), which seems to absorb Beethoven’s Op. 10, No. 3 and look forward to the D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2. It starts out with a slow introduction that proceeds to the second of its six tempo changes. The ensuing Allegro con fuoco e con espessione suggests a Hungarian fire that will become Franz Liszt. Some of the bass shifts look to Beethoven’s B Minor Bagatelle, Op. 126, No. 4.  Staccati, marcattisimo chords, and canonic writing in thirds and sixths mark the lengthy first movement proper. The Largo, mesto e patetico proceeds in staggered motion, sometimes hinting at Debussy, otherwise at C.P.E. Bach.  Follows an Allegro -Tempo I (Molto agitato) – and Presto that stand as a collective third movement, which ends like Beethoven’s Appassionata. Demidenko, who recorded all these 2-3 December 1994,  hurls himself into this music with scintillating flair, the strong piano sound courtesy of Steinway and engineer Ken Blair.  A disc for the musically adventurous, certainly.

— Gary Lemco

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