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Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Piano Sonatas: Sonata in G minor, Op. 34 No. 2 (1795) [22:23]; Sonata in A, Op. 50, No. 1 (1821) [22:38]; Sonata in E-flat, Op. 41 (1804) [17:34]
Tanya Bannister (piano)
rec. 13-15 August 2004, The Performing Arts Center, The Country Day School, King City, Ontario, Canada
NAXOS 8.557453 [62:36]

 

Having recently reviewed a disc of Clementi played on a period instrument (see review). I was interested to hear this recent recording of Clementi on a modern instrument. It is quite good and shows several sides to the composer. Clementi played piano as a child and has been remembered primarily as the composer of small pieces one had to practise in lessons for the teacher. These sonatas will show the casual listener that he is anything but minor-league.

The Op. 34 No. 2 is stormy and stern, with a quicksilver left-hand part. It slips into a quiet, gentle section that, with its instability of mood, in turn slides back into the first theme. After such an outburst, the tranquil second movement is almost surprisingly simple and restrained. It isn’t until five minutes into the movement that the tension begins to mount. Then, with a repeated four-note figure, we glide smoothly into the coda. Following this, and reminding one of Beethoven even more than the Largo e sostenuto that began the piece, the finale is a bravura movement that has many rapid-fire changes in mood and carries itself to the close with irrepressible force. This piece should certainly be performed more often.

The second sonata here, the Op. 50 No. 1, begins gently and maintains a sunny aspect throughout its first movement. Again, the closest analogue is Clementi’s contemporary, Beethoven. The tone, however, changes in the slow movement to ally itself with Bach; a grave opening statement gives us a motif used contrapuntally. The overall form of the movement is a surprisingly “old-fashioned” slant for the time in which it was composed. The third movement returns to what its first hearers would consider a more “modern” sound.

The disc ends with a rather low-key piece that has little of the first sonata’s turbulence or the unusual structure of the second. This, the Op. 41, stays in tried-and-true territory in its three-movement, Allegro/Adagio/Allegro format. In comparison, the Op. 41 is the one that is most pleasant, which tends to mean it possesses the fewest surprises. The last movement has its technical pitfalls, with Clementi’s trademark runs of thirds and some quick passages, but overall it lacks the punch and innovation of the other two presented here.

Tanya Bannister plays these sonatas clearly with a minimum of bombast or sentimentality; these pieces have little need of either. Naxos have been releasing various discs of Clementi’s piano music over the last few years. Other labels have flirted with a Clementi series — MDG has a few discs released and Arts Music made a very serious start with its box sets featuring Pietro Spada. This present recording gives me reason to wish that Naxos continue to release more Clementi. These are highly competent and assured performances from Bannister. Recommended.

David Blomenberg

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