CLEMENTI Piano Sonatas and Preludes
Muzio Clementi was a precocious 14-year-old when brought from his native Rome to England, where he eventually built an international musical career that, in terms of diversity, has scarcely been equalled since. Clementi’s music enjoyed considerable esteem and influence during his lifetime but his posthumous reputation seems seldom to have approached the appreciation accorded by his contemporaries. He’s had champions aplenty, yet doubt always seems to linger. Have we taken full measure of the ‘Father of the Pianoforte’, giving Clementi his just due?
For her new Piano Classics recording of the master, Ilia Kim has chosen a chronological presentation of works dating from between 1779 and 1802 in performances that seem to perpetuate rather than answer the question. ‘Mr Clementi’s Celebrated Octave Lesson’, as Op 2 No 2 became popularly known, opens with a Presto in two, which Kim construes as a Moderato in four. Its essential character is diluted by rhythms lacking crispness and overly generous applications of pedal. The second, concluding movement, a Rondo spiritoso, fares better by retaining something of its vibrant conversational nature. Greater traction, both expressively and stylistically, is achieved in the G minor Sonata, Op 7 No 3. Yet here, protracted ritards not specified in the score render Clementi’s structure somewhat episodic. Some of the impact of the lovely slow movement is lost by Kim’s failure to register some of the more audacious harmonic turns. A genuine presto is mustered for the finale, though its impetus is also impaired by reflexive ritards preparing cadences. The D major Sonata, Op 40 No 3, rich with affective devices it shares with Beethoven’s near-contemporaneous Pastoral Sonata, Op 28, contains wonderfully clear and charming passagework, even if its more pathetic elements seem beyond grasp.
A more dimensional Clementi, replete with his vibrant virtuosity, unquestionable lyric depth and what might be considered an appropriate historical stylistic vocabulary, can be found in the Naxos series of the late Susan Alexander-Max and the Hyperion series of Howard Shelley. Reissues of the old Horowitz performances of Clementi can also still provide unexpected pleasures.