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Sonata Op.31, No.1 in A minor (pub.1794) [9:23]
Sonata Op.33, No.3 in C major [20:13]
Sonata Op.26, No.2 in F-sharp minor [12:58]
Sonata Op.47, No.2 in B-flat major (1821) [13:25]
Sang Mi Chung (piano)
rec. 17-18 February 2009, American Academy of Arts and Letters,
CENTAUR CRC 3035 [55:50]
Recordings of Muzio Clementi’s piano sonatas are available in
numerous forms and a variety of price classes. Of the modern
instrument recordings these range from the Naxos budget releases
with Susan Alexander Max and Tanja
Bannister, to the excellent Hyperion series played by Howard
Shelley. Sang Mi Chung’s recording doesn’t come with any
great feeling of luxury, given rather skimpy anonymously written
booklet notes on a single foldout sheet. There is also an issue
of accuracy, with the first sonata labelled as Op.36 No.
1 rather than the correct numbering of Op.31. That
said these are recordings of fine quality, and performances
which can stand amongst the best in the current catalogue.
Clementi’s star has been on the wax for a while now, and as
an influence on more famous followers such as Beethoven, his
prolific output of 68 solo piano sonatas has led to his being
described as the ‘father of’ this particular form. Historical
arguments for or against this status aside, the pieces on this
CD argue strongly for his recognition as a highly original composer
of music of powerful content and strikingly high quality.
Sang Mi Chung doesn’t hold back on the kind of dramatic elements
in this music which attracted the younger Beethoven, and in
particular the darker moods of the Sonata Op.26, No.2 in
F-sharp minor echo on in later works where the romantic
spirit was developing those inner emotional worlds of expression.
The middle movement Lento e patetico is particularly
lovely. That said, the repetitive phrases in the faster movements
which recall Scarlatti are also not entirely absent, so that
tension of forward-looking with glances over the shoulder is
ever present. The most substantial work on the disc is the Sonata
Op.33, No.3 in C major which, as a transcription of a full
piano concerto, has that much more development, with some nicely
witty turns in the final Presto and a sense of tightly
argued musical thought throughout. The spirit of Haydn is very
much alive in the Sonata Op.47, No.2 in B-flat major with
its brightness of colour and good humoured transparency.
Placed in the now familiar and perfectly balanced acoustic of
the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, this is
a very fine selection of Clementi’s sonatas, and will do very
nicely as an introduction to this composer’s keyboard work if
the prospect of embarking on a larger set is too daunting. Sang
Mi Chung’s touch in these works is reassuringly firm, giving
the pieces just that sense of spontaneity and freshness they
need to lift them above any sense of academic duty. Short playing
time and rather sad presentation aside, this is a CD which won’t
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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