The London Connection: Works by Beethoven, Clementi & JP Cramer

Dejan Lazić; Netherlands Chamber Orchestra/Gordon Nikolić (Onyx)

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The London Connection
Beethoven: Piano Concerto in D, Op. 61a (arr Violin Concerto); Clementi: Piano Sonata in B minor, Op. 40/2; JP Cramer: Piano Sonata in E, Op. 62
(Le retour à Londres)
Dejan Lazić (piano); Netherlands Chamber Orchestra/Gordon Nikolić
Onyx Classics ONYX 4187 78:29 mins

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In the spring of 1807 the London-based composer and publisher Clementi travelled to Vienna to negotiate a contract with Beethoven. One of the new pieces he commissioned from the great composer was a piano version of his famous violin concerto. It’s a fairly routine transcription, but Beethoven’s new cadenzas (he wrote none for the original concerto) are fascinating. The first-movement cadenza is the wackiest Beethoven ever wrote, with a middle section in the style of a march, complete with a timpani part; and there’s also a surprisingly dramatic new link between the slow movement and finale.

Clementi’s own B minor Sonata is a fine piece, with a sombre introduction heralding an agitated Allegro, and a deeply-felt slow movement which anticipates the finale’s main theme. Like Clementi, Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858) settled in London. He had known Beethoven, who had admired him as a pianist. The sonata Dejan Lazić plays in his enterprising programme is in dazzling virtuoso style, with a first movement that’s attractive enough, though the remainder is less characterful. Lazić is a fine musician, and plays both solo pieces thoughtfully and imaginatively. Less of an unqualified success is the very relaxed account of the concerto, where Lazić’s first entry is so free that the music almost grinds to a halt. The presence of a conductor (the performance is directed by the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra’s leader, Gordan Nikolić) might have produced a more integrated and compelling account; but this is nevertheless an intriguing project, shedding valuable light on early 19th-century musical life in London.

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Misha Donat