Clementi Fortepiano Sonatas

The Clementi completists should find plenty to fascinate them here

Author: 
Lindsay Kemp

Clementi Fortepiano Sonatas

  • Keyboard Sonata
  • (5) Keyboard Sonatas, B flat
  • (3) Keyboard Sonatas, G minor
  • (3) Keyboard Sonatas, E flat
  • (3) Keyboard Sonatas, A

This is the fifth disc of Clementi piano sonatas to come from Naxos, and the second volume of “early sonatas”, for which they have turned to the fortepiano of Susan Alexander-Max. It makes sense to do so, for whereas the later sonatas approach the Romantic manner, these ones date from the early 1780s, right in among Mozart’s and Haydn’s output (“from Alberti to Chopin” is how New Grove characterises Clementi’s creative trajectory), and almost certainly come across better on the smaller and lighter instrument.

Immediately apparent is the degree to which Clementi was expanding piano technique, setting novel virtuoso challenges and creating a wide variety of powerful new textures for future composers to draw upon, not least among them Beethoven. He is clearly foreshadowed in some of the thicker chordal writing here, but there is a hint of the great man’s emotional breadth, too, in the best of the sonatas on the disc, Op 7 No 3. Alas, that same inspiration is rarely to be found in the other sonatas: though they frequently show the chipper personality of a Haydn, there is little melodic material of distinction here,
and, sad to say, as I listened to some of these fidgety finales I could not suppress the voice in my head whispering Mozart’s famous criticism: “mechanicus!”

Susan Alexander-Max draws attention in her booklet-note to Clementi’s piano innovations, emphasising the importance of maximising his textural contrasts, of making the piano sound big. In this she certainly succeeds, but often at too great a cost in sheer grace and proper singing tone; only Op 7 No 3 truly seems to inspire her. Ultimately a disc for curious completists only, I suspect.

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