MUZIO CLEMENTI: Duets Opp. 3, 6, and 14 – Duo Hammerklavier – Quintone

by | Mar 24, 2012 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

MUZIO CLEMENTI: Duets Opp. 3, 6, and 14 – Duo Hammerklavier – Quintone multichannel SACD Q08005 [Distr. by Naxos], 72:00 *****:
Like other worthy composers from the age of Beethoven, Muzio Clementi (who was actually four years older than Mozart, though he outlived Beethoven by five years) fell into eclipse even if his historical importance was always clear to scholars. Mozart had disparaging things to say about Clementi as a performer, but then Clementi was a rival whose fame grew as Mozart’s declined during the 1780s. Beethoven was always a Clementi admirer, and the prominent pianist-composers of the early-Romantic era such as Johann Hummel and John Field were deeply indebted to him, transmitting his influence to the next generation, including Chopin.
In the twentieth century, the Clementi brand was given a new infusion of capital with the advocacy of Vladimir Horowitz, who thought some of Clementi’s sonatas the equals of Beethoven’s. Since then, Clementi’s star has been in the ascendant; his complete piano sonatas are available, and his finest sonatas are represented in multiple versions. Even his individual and interesting symphonies can be had in several different interpretations (though sadly only six of the twenty that Clementi penned survive). But there still seems room for discovery in the Clementi canon: the current recording of the piano duets includes one, Op. 6 of 1781, that doesn’t appear to be otherwise available on disc. Even so, Duo Hammerklavier (Galina Draganova and Vasily Ilisavsky) have cornered the market on the duets played on fortepiano, in this case a five-and-a-half octave Broadwood grand of 1798 – the year, interestingly, that Clementi launched his career as music publisher and piano maker in London, where he had taken up permanent residence some fifteen years earlier. Since Clementi built pianos, it might have been interesting to hear one or more of these duets played on a Clementi fortepiano, but given the wide-ranging celebrity of Broadwood & Son pianos in Clementi’s day (Beethoven owned a six-octave grand, presented to the composer in 1817 by Thomas Broadwood himself), and given the real attractiveness of the instrument that Duo Hammerklavier plays, I have no complaints.
The Opus 3 Duets are all in two movements, an opening sonata allegro and concluding Rondeau (except for No. 2, which ends with a Minuetto). No. 1 begins with a whirlwind of an Allegro Spiritoso, but for the most part, the demands of these first three duets are fairly modest and would commend them to talented amateurs. With the three-movement Opus 6 Duet, however, demands on the pianists increase exponentially. The concluding Presto, a brief but finely conceived sonata allegro, has a fresh open-air quality that suggests a hunt scene.
Clementi pulls no punches technically in the three Opus 14  Duets of 1786, which represent a further artistic advance. Nos. 1 and 3 feature patrician Adagios that have (I hope Clementi would approve) a Mozartian elegance. No. 1 features two hearty sonata-allegro movements, while No. 3 ends instead with a Rondeau like that of the Opus 3 Duets, except this is as demanding as the opening Allegro—chord- and bass-heavy, keeping the pianists motoring along throughout its three-and-a-half-minute length. No. 2 is an odd duck of a duet, with two movements “written in almost the same tempo [Allegro and Allegro Assai], as if the second were a development of the first.” As if to give the pianists a slight respite, Clementi begins the sonata in a subdued strain, only to throw hurdles at the pianists in the electric bridge passages and development section. So there’s no rest for the weary as the pianists launch into the finale—or rather there is fitful rest in the form of brief decrescendos and pauses at phrase endings, which presage the diminuendo at the conclusion of the piece.
Duo Hammerklavier plays this happy, eventful music with obvious relish. The bright legato runs and brisk chords whisk by in propulsive bursts fueled by the Duo’s sensitive dynamic shading and even more sensitive use of rubato. That lovely Broadwood is caught in excellent SACD sound as well—airy and with a convincing sense of depth, true-to-life, except maybe a trifle bigger than life in terms of stereo imaging. So much the better, I say! Very much recommended!
—Lee Passarella

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