In many respects, Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) was the father
of modern piano composition. His earliest works include the
“A Flat Major Sonata, WoO 13,” and were probably more
conceived for the harpsichord than the piano; however,
the title page of his 1771 “Six Sonatas, Op. 1″ lists the
works as for “Harpsichord or Pianoforte.” These pieces,
along with the Clementi’s “Three Sonatas, Op. 2” from 1779,
comprise the first disc of this two-CD set.
As of his late teens, Clementi had yet to reach maturity
as a composer, and the aforementioned “Six Sonatas, Op. 1”
reflected his familiarity with the common galant style, without
a lot of striking originality. By contrast, his “Three Sonatas, Op. 2,”
are more technically demanding, with dazzling scale passages in
thirds and octaves, creating “Sturm und Drang” moments
throughout. In fact, I am unaware of comparable technical
difficulties in the Sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Disc Two features “Three Sonatas, Op. 7” and
“Three Sonatas, Op. 8,” dating from around 1784. With one
exception, all of these pieces are in three movements.
I found it interesting that parts of these Sonatas seem to
anticipate certain aspects of works by Ludwig von Beethoven
(1770-1827), who happened to be a big admirer of
Clementi. For this reason, I’m glad that these Sonatas
were primarily arranged on these discs chronologically,
thereby making it easier to trace Clementi’s development
as a composer. The inexplicable exception to this pattern
is the placement of the aforementioned “A Flat Major Sonata,
WoO 13,” at the end of Disc Two. It is the longest piece in this
set, at more than 13 minutes.
Incidentally, in the years after composing his “Six Sonatas,
Op. 1,” Clementi entered the field of piano manufacturing.
I’m certain that as he prospered in this field during the
early 19th Century, the technological developments of the
pianos were reflected in his later compositions.
Considering the demands of Clementi’s scores, I believe
that pianist Howard Shelley (1950 – ) was wise to use a
modern piano for his performances. Mr. Shelley has clearly made
a study of this music, and his playing here is exemplary.
I’m looking forward to hearing other installments in this series.
It’s a bargain, including two CDs for the price of one. This
2008 release under the Hyperion label has comprehensive
liner notes, and the sound engineering is excellent. Overall,
I’d give this set an “A.”