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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (à la Scarlatti).
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.