this excellent series were both reviewed positively on MusicWeb
International. The latest, Volume 4, is now available; and is
- unsurprisingly - up to just as high a standard. These two Hyperion
CDs for the price of one should be snapped up immediately. Collectors
of the series will not want to wait. If this music is new to
you, this fourth CD is in a series which constitutes the best
introduction available to this repertoire.
Susan Alexander-Max has two CDs of Clementi's early sonatas (Wo
14, Op. 1a no. 2, Op. 2 no. 4, Op. 7 no. 3, Op. 8 nos 1 and 3,
Op. 9 no. 3, Op. 10 no. 1, Op. 11 no. 1 and Op. 13, no. 6) on
Naxos 8555808 and 8557695. Peter Katin's collection on Athene
24113 ranges across Opp 7, 13, 24 and 25. Richard Burnett (Amon
Ra 8) has Op. 49 and Op. 50 no. 3. The most ambitious after Shelley's
is the three-CD Brilliant Classics set (93338) by Costantino
Mastroprimiano; so far only volume I has appeared with a survey
to Op. 41 (though without Op. 25). None of these has the unassuming
authority and sheer exuberance of Shelley, though.
These are but two of the qualities brought by Shelley so appropriately
to this neglected yet highly pleasurable music. The pianist is
clearly enjoying this project as much as we are: listen to the
way he flies through the allegro spirito
of Op. 33 no.
3 [CD.2 tr.7], for example: assured yet receptive. Shelley's
style is also relaxed and undemonstrative. The tempi throughout
the Op. 25 set, for instance, are considered, and lovingly coaxed
from the music - rather than imposed on it. The opening movement
of Op. 25 no. 3 [CD.1 tr.6] 'unfolds' as when we explore a garden
at ground level, rather than from above.
The same is true of dynamics: there is great variation from pianissimo
the dozen or so pieces presented here. This adds to our sense
that Clementi too is enjoying himself. But neither Shelley's
tempo nor his volume is ever wayward or lax. The variations that
Shelley uses are always in the service of the music's architecture
and inner logic. Although Shelley pays very careful attention
to phrasing, allowing each musical idea to emerge, run its course
and fold into the next, he constantly has in mind the particular
place which each musical thought has in Clementi's overall design.
For keyboard music on the watershed between the Galant, Classical
and even Romantic idioms this is not easy. Shelley does it by
immersing himself in the forward motion that Clementi insists
upon. The sense that something of a journey is undertaken in
Op. 33, no. 1 [CD.2 trs.3-4], for example, is considerable; nothing
so extensive as in Beethoven, but somehow more considered than
When phrasing and tempi are needed to convey a little more anguish
or 'care', Shelley has all the technique and virtuosity that
are needed. Yet they are informed by thoughtfulness. Take the allegro
of Op. 33 no.2 [CD.2 tr.5], for example: something
verging on mild panic is needed; at the very least a sense of
urgency, with the hint of the 'unwanted' about to descend. And
this is just what Shelley delivers - though from the piano stool,
not the stage.
Never breathless or aggressively relentless, Shelley's stewardship
of the sense of direction which characterises the composer's
invention is truly superb. For it would have been all too easy
to err by stopping to muse in the slower passages or movements
(as in the opening of the first maestoso e cantabile
of Op. 25 no.4 [CD.1 tr.8], for example). But this is not Romantic
music. It would not have benefited from such reflection. Rather,
tauter and more disciplined explorations of the relationship
between tonality and structure. The pianist's adhesion to these
aspects of Clementi's idiom is truly exemplary: in the mid section
and climax of the same movement, for example. As if he were reading
a poem to us with the entire text projected over his shoulder.
Could Clementi have felt out of things in the backwater of the
Dorset estate where he was engaged by Peter Beckford - in the
same way Haydn did at Eszterháza? It might be only barely fanciful
to attribute to Shelley a (successful) attempt to represent the
tension between Clementi's initial isolation and his later celebrity
in the London musical scene of the late eighteenth century. If
Shelley's mercurial approach to the music is an acknowledgement
of any self-doubt which the Roman Clementi may perhaps have felt
in exile, it is a persuasive and fitting one. And one that comes
only with profound familiarity with the music.
This is all the more remarkable when one remembers that Clementi
probably wrote several of the sonatas played here for amateur
performance. Shelley effortlessly exacts from them every ounce
of profundity, joy and beauty. He is particularly effective in
conveying Clementi's economy without sounding either clipped
or rushed. It has to be said, though, that Shelley's pace is
generally on the lively side. This adds, though, to our sense
of excitement and - above all - of involvement in the music.
There is a short booklet with notes on the background and a rather
cursory survey of the sonatas themselves. The acoustic on the
two CDs privileges the piano over any kind of spurious atmosphere.
All in all an excellent and important addition to the repertoire.