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Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
The Complete Piano Sonatas 2

CD 1
Three Sonatas, Op. 9 [36:12]
Three Sonatas, Op. 10 [30:14]
CD 2
Sonata in E flat major, Op. 11 No. 1 [11:48]
Toccata in B flat major, Op. 11 No. 2 [4:03]
Four Sonatas, Op. 12 [55:36]
Howard Shelley (piano)
rec. 11-15 February 2008, All Saints Church, East Finchley, London. DDD
[66:26 + 71:27]


Experience Classicsonline

It would be hard to fault the approach and playing of Howard Shelley on this very attractive two-CD set of piano music by Clementi from Hyperion. The key to his perceptive and persuasive performances seems to be humility. Or - better - respect. His touch is light but firm. His tempi are gentle but consistent and appropriate. His variations in timbre noticeable but always to a purpose. The result is twofold: for those familiar with Clementi's work something new and fresh emerges. For those new to it, something of substance and immense pleasure is added to their repertoire (and probably CD collection) of music to love.

Most of Clementi's work is for the keyboard. It does not get the exposure you might expect, given his reputation when living - second only to that of Haydn, and later Beethoven, who himself ranked Clementi extremely highly. Nor does Clementi's music get the exposure it deserves in our time. Clementi's is music sure of foot and direction, yet with at times Mozartian deliberation and Schubertian purity.

Living to the age of eighty through one of music's stormiest periods, Clementi ploughed his own furrow. That is what Shelley has brought out. Each piece is approached in its own right and its internal logic is emphasised - more as 'pure' music, than as music with a particular historical weight. As a result, small details (such as key changes, ornamentation, subtlety in texture) emerge and are gently evident to the listener. Yet they are details which add to the particularity of each piece. Of these Shelley is aware, then, without showing them off. Integrated wholes. The result at the end of an hour or two hours careful listening is of immense satisfaction. Thanks to Shelley's embrace of its conception and architecture the music has worked.

This set is particularly welcome, then. It's the second volume in a projected complete chronological survey of the Clementi sonatas which Hyperion hopes to complete in six double CD sets - and attractively priced: two for the price of one every time. They are expected to be released over the next three years. Indeed, Volume 1 (CDA67632) has already appeared. It contained less substantial pieces than those on the current set. But equally delightful. Now these dozen or so sonatas and a toccata in Volume 2 are situated somewhere between an unburdened Haydn who has absorbed a lot of Scarlatti - and early Beethoven.

An issue for some might be the instrument. Shelley plays a modern Steinway. We could have expected a fortepiano; it might have added more character; it would have thrown the textures into a different relief and perhaps be thought to have added depth. Instead, Shelley has opted to emphasise the music's structure, its development through each movement and indeed throughout movements. The Op. 10 sonata in A major is a good example [CD1 trs. 10-12]: as we listen, we are more conscious of the melodic ideas, the changes in mood through which Clementi leads us - as did Mozart; not the effects ( la Scarlatti).

Thus the music speaks for itself directly from the composer. Surely a wiser approach of Shelley's. So, Yes, one is probably likely to listen to these splendid pieces less as curiosities that attracted Mozart's ire and more as poetic excursions into the soul, even; in some ways as one listens to Beethoven. They are 'contained' thematically, true. There are few fireworks or Chopinesque moments of rumination. Yet Shelley's playing emphasises their solidity, worthiness to stand at the centre of this repertoire, not as fillers. And as highly communicative contributions to the genre, which (while making few innovations) ought to leave you plainly centred and at peace after an hour's listening.

Mark Sealey


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