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Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Early Piano Sonatas: Vol. 2
Sonata in E flat major, Op. 11 (1784) [14:10]
Sonata in B flat major, Op.1, No.2 (c.1781) [10:05]
Sonata in G minor, Op.7, No.3 (1782) [16:59]
Sonata in E flat major, Op.9, No.3 (1783) [16:34]
Sonata in A major, Op.10, No.1 (1783) [13:49]
Susan Alexander-Max (fortepiano)
rec. 20-22 September 2004, St. Paul’s, Southgate, London
NAXOS 8.557695 [71:49]



This very engaging CD has several heroes … or heroines. Clementi himself, for writing such interesting and intriguing music; Susan Alexander-Max for playing it with so much insight and intelligence; Derek Adlam for making the fine-sounding copy of a fortepiano of around 1798 on which she interprets the music, the original instrument being the work of Michael Rosengerger, the Bavarian instrument maker who was at work in Vienna from 1796.

Adlam’s copy of Rosenberger’s fortepiano is a joy in itself; it has a very light, pure treble, a lyrical middle register and a pretty solid bass. It has both grace and - relatively speaking - power. It is admirably suited to Clementi’s music – which has, indeed, the same qualities itself. Instrument (and pianist) are entirely at home with the essentially cantabile nature of these early sonatas.

All are in three movements – fast-slow-fast and, in a real sense, all the essentials of what later generations came to think of as the conventions of the piano sonata are already present here. Clementi’s influence on Beethoven, for one, is now well established. Of course, Beethoven does things with the piano sonata that Clementi could hardly have dreamed of, but if one listens, for example, to the Opus 7, no 3 sonata, anticipations of Beethoven, in the use of dynamic contrast, in the sforzando rhetoric of the opening allegro con spirito, in the octave work of the closing presto and in the profound lyricism of the slow movement (cantabile e lento), are unmissable. We have interesting testimony from Anton Schindler (admittedly not always the most reliable of witnesses!) to the effect that Beethoven “had the greatest admiration for these sonatas, considering them the most beautiful, the most pianistic of works, both for their lovely, pleasing, original melodies and for the consistent, easily followed form of each movement.” Listening is enough to tell us that, for once, Schindler can probably be trusted. 

But it would be unfair to Clementi just to talk about him in terms of his influence, rather than on the basis of the considerable merits of his own – best - music. In these sonatas there is much that is “lovely [and] pleasing”, especially in the slow movements (try the central larghetto con espressione of Op.11); there are some beautifully made faster movements … as in the prestissimo which closes Op.10, no.1. Perhaps Clementi doesn’t often surprise the modern listener; but that is, in part, because so much of what he did became established practice in the piano music of the nineteenth century; we listen to Clementi having heard what followed him and consequently fail to appreciate the considerable originality and sheer quality of much of his writing for the keyboard. 

As she was in an earlier Clementi collection for Naxos (Early Piano Sonatas, 8.555808) Susan Alexander-Max proves herself to be a thoroughly persuasive advocate for this still underrated music. She allows herself proper freedoms of interpretation but within an evident respect for Clementi and his achievement. If you haven’t yet discovered that there is more to Clementi than the didactic Gradus ad Parnassum and the relatively simple Sonatinas, you now have a further excellent chance to do so. 

Glyn Pursglove





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