First impressions are important, though they can sometimes be misleading.
The opening few bars, for example, from the early Sonata in G minor
3 would seem to show Canadian pianist, Ian Hominick, as an
empathetic player, if only from the way he very sensitively points the
almost-Mendelssohnian suspension in the sixth bar.
While the opening dynamic in the score is 'piano' (quietly), and this is
evident, the tempo indication 'Allegro con spirito' (lively with spirit)
isn't perhaps as faithfully followed. True, it's lively at times, but is it
spirited, too? It's almost as if Hominick does not want to overstep the mark
in terms of making this music larger than it is. He is mindful, perhaps, of
the inherent danger of overcooking music of composers from the late
classical/early romantic periods, especially when played on a modern
While the sleeve-note informs us that Hominick is playing on a 'Steinway
piano', the initial sound would not immediately appear to confirm this, nor
indicate whether it's full-size, or of boudoir proportions. Clearly it is
tuned to A440, but there is a lack of immediacy and brightness, whether
deliberate from the performer or inherent in the instrument itself,
virtually from the start.
The first two sonatas on the CD, from the Opp. 7 and 13 sets respectively,
come to life more so in the outer faster movements. There Hominick appears
fairly adept in the often tricky and convoluted passage-work. This he
despatches with some aplomb and overall good control.
The slow movements seem to lack quite the same sense of over-arching
shape. Hominick's tempi are generally slower than those of his main
competitor, Howard Shelley (see below). For example, in the first slow
movement Shelley comes in at 3:10, while Hominick takes almost a minute
more, at 4:01, which really does make excessive demands on the listener.
This is especially where the piano itself does not really appear to produce
a 'cantabile' singing-tone.
The third sonata, described in the comprehensive sleeve-notes as 'The
centrepiece of the CD', is the aptly-named Sonata Quasi Concerto in C major,
Op 33/3. This was originally intended as a work for piano and orchestra, but
was re-written as a solo piece. There is some virtuosity in the two outer
movements - a cadenza even - and Hominick largely conveys the composer's
idea that here is piano-writing of more symphonic proportions. Again, while
the opening Allegro's tempo indication asks the performer to play 'with
spirit' there still seems a sense of restraint - something which is also
apparent in the finale. It is as if there is a safety net under the
trapeze-artist. In both movements Shelley adopts a faster tempo, which
certainly adds to the musical fireworks.
Returning to an earlier work, the Sonata in G minor, Op 8/1, Hominick puts
in a better performance, notwithstanding the piano sound. The central slow
movement, however, still takes just over a minute more than Shelley, with
similar implications for the listener's attention-span.
The final work on the CD, the Sonata in G major, Op 37/2 produces a
significantly brighter performance from Hominick. Here is a sonata more in
tune with the sound-world of Haydn, with its overall cheerful disposition.
This tends to self-propel the music without too much input from the player.
While speed is certainly not everything, Hominick's timings here are only
31, 18 and 11 seconds slower than Shelley's for each respective
In terms of making any ultimate choice, it's important to point out that,
while top UK pianist Howard Shelley has indeed recorded the same sonatas as
Hominick, Shelley's recordings come from a six-volume double CD collection
which includes every Clementi sonata - Hyperion CDA 67632, 67717, 67729,
67738, 67814 and 67819 respectively. Shelley's playing and piano sound would
clearly put his 12 CDs well ahead of Hominick's single CD 'sampler', so
anyone wanting the 'full works' would have no problem.
Hyperion, in fact, does provide another option, in the shape of a further
single-CD selection from Russian virtuoso, Nikolai Demidenko (originally
issued as CDH55227, and now currently available as part of the record
label's Archive Service). The playing and recording are again superb, as
with Shelley, but unlike Hominick's early-to-middle selection, Demidenko's
includes works only from Opp. 24, 25 and 40 - therefore tending towards the
latter end chronologically.
Since Hominick's CD really does appear to fall short in terms of piano
sound and overall performance, probably the best recommendation is to get
hold of either the Demidenko, or just one double CD from Shelley, should you
be looking for a specific sonata, or, perhaps, a selection. Then, if you
like what you've heard, you can add another Shelley volume in your own time,
as they do not come as a boxed set.
Philip R Buttall