Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
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, New York
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 disappoint.