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Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Sonata in G minor, Op. 7 No. 3 [11:44]
Sonata in F minor, Op. 13 No. 6 [15:34]
Sonata Quasi Concerto in C major, Op. 33 No. 3 [20:54]
Sonata in G minor, Op. 8 No. 1 [14:02]
Sonata in G major, Op. 37 No. 2 [14:11]
Ian Hominick (piano)
rec. 13-15 March 2012, WFMT Studio, Chicago, Illinois
MSR CLASSICS MS 1475 [76:27]

First impressions are important, though they can sometimes be misleading. The opening few bars, for example, from the early Sonata in G minor Op7/3 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 instrument.

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 movement.

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