Clementi: Keyboard Sonatas, Opp. 25/5, 13/6 & 34/2

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Clementi
LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Keyboard Sonatas, Opp. 25/5, 13/6 & 34/2
PERFORMER: Christopher Czaja Sager (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD 94.015 AAD Reissue (1995)
I wonder whether Mozart would have written Clementi off as ‘a mere mechanicus’ and ‘a charlatan, like all Italians’ if he had heard the three minor-keyed sonatas on the Hänssler disc. Both the F sharp minor from Op. 25 and the F minor from Op. 13 are eloquently expressive pieces that filter Scarlattian techniques (including spare, linear textures) through an early Romantic sensibility. The later G minor Sonata is even more powerful. The astringent contrapuntal slow introduction not only fertilises the turbulent Allegro con fuoco but also recurs dramatically just before the recapitulation (a foretaste here of Beethoven’s Pathétique); and there’s more abrasive counterpoint in the driving, Beethovenian finale. Playing a relatively light-toned Bösendorfer, Christopher Czaja Sager gives thoughtful, lucid performances, a shade cautious in the agitated Presto finales of the two earlier sonatas, but always alive to the music’s rhetorical intensity and harmonic potency. Forty-eight minutes at full price, though, is not good enough.

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The two-disc offering from Warner Fonit is less memorable, despite Maria Tipo’s refined and colourful playing. There are instances of Clementi’s distinctive harmonic boldness in the Opp. 10 and 11 sonatas, and a tangy polonaise finale to Op. 10/3, with ear-teasing cross-rhythms. But for all their neatness and concision, many of the movements exude a distinctly frigid elegance. And I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind wanting to sit through two sets of banal salon waltzes irritatingly tricked out with triangle and tambourine. The Italian notes, incidentally, read as if they’ve been translated by computer: the Allegro of Op. 10/1 is apparently ‘based on a chrome repeat’, while one of the slow movements ‘fondly articulates in clear Lied form’. Richard Wigmore