Earlier CD sets of Howard Shelley's projected six-volume chronological
survey of Clementi's complete piano sonatas have been very favourably
reviewed on MusicWeb International (Volume
). It would be odd if this, the penultimate release in the
series, were any the less welcome.
It's not. It lives up in every way to the extremely high standard
set by Volumes I to IV and should be bought immediately by everyone
collecting the series. What's more, the music on this generous
almost two and a half hours of immaculate playing by Shelley,
who must now be considered Clementi's 'reference' pianist, makes
a persuasive case for those as yet unfamiliar with the repertoire
to look into it more closely.
It has to be said that the fact that Shelley and Hyperion have
chosen to present Clementi's sonatas in chronological order does
go some way towards favouring the later CDs: the music is more
inventive, mature and thoughtful. At times on this set, the echoes
of Beethoven and Schubert are quite enchanting. The same world
that also produced Haydn and Mozart is never far away either;
though without the greater depth of those four greatest composers.
Shelley, though, suggests to the open-minded listener that Clementi
had different goals. And then successfully shows us what those
goals were and how Clementi met them.
Shelley has managed to give us, indeed, such a strong sense of
Clementi's musical world that lovers of the piano and Classical
period piano in particular may well want to explore the earlier
sonatas. There is, indeed, a consistency and conviction in Shelley's
playing which is barely tempered by his informed enthusiasm for
the composer. The result is a freshness and dynamism which surely
make as much of the music not only as it can ever bear but also
as it receives from anyone else on record.
CD 1 contains the two Op. 34 sonatas - No.1 in C major and No.2
in G minor as well as the delightful Sonatinas, Op. 36. Apparently,
Op. 34, 1 may originally have been a concerto and Op. 34, 2 a
symphony. There are but a few traces of the drama and wider vistas
which would have been necessary for even the most modest of symphonic
works. Shelley nevertheless easily and gently exposes the drama
and rather grander conception of the works. Breadth, depth, insight
and gravity are uppermost amongst the qualities which he brings
to his interpretations. Nor does one feel this is because Shelley
has 'worked his way into' the music. Rather, that the music itself
makes its own case - for this is still somewhat 'secondary' repertoire
- despite the tradition in which Clementi worked … a favourite
of Beethoven, teacher of Field and - ultimately - an inspiration
The G minor is particularly poignant. Like Schubert, Clementi
is at his most effective in minor keys. This sonata is a gem.
Yet Shelley has no intention of over-milking the emotion. He uses
just the right amount of expression. That is typical of this admirable
series. By 'progressive' Clementi meant that the six sonatinas
Op. 36 get increasingly difficult - for the pupil for whom they
were written to play. This isn't what Shelley concentrates on.
Rather, on their musicality and the joyous - and at times, admittedly,
exploratory - ideas in the development of which the composer is
so confident. And in which he delights without a hint of the ephemeral
or trivial. At this point in the series, though, we really ought
to be assuming that Clementi's piano works are anything but trivial.
CD 2 has the three Op. 37 sonatas - No.1 in C major, No.2 in G
major and No.3 in D major with the more substantial B flat major
sonata, Op. 46. It's easy to agree with Shelley's assessment that
Op. 34 remains of greater profundity and is likely to carry more
listeners with it than the three Op. 37s, good though they are.
They have a pastoral feel to them without overdoing the obvious
primitivism which Clementi uses. Shelley is obviously very much
at home in this idiom. Of course he takes the technical challenges
which they present easily in his stride. Op. 46 was published
over 20 years after the Op. 37 three; it nevertheless sounds like
the composer's earlier work. Like some of the passages in the
Op. 37s', ornament and polyphony of otherwise relatively simple
themes are preoccupations of Clementi's. Shelley neither exploits
nor overlooks this aspect of the music. But he brings out its
essence very effectively.
The acoustic on these two CDs is good; the booklet that comes
with them informative. All in all it's hard to see how this project
could be more worthwhile. Shelley continues to combine his acute
perceptiveness with a wholly transparent technique to make the
most of music which really deserves to be better known. If this
set can't further this process significantly, it's hard to see