Clementi: Keyboard Sonatas, Op. 2/4, Op. 8/1 & 3, Op. 13/6 & WoO 14

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COMPOSERS: Clementi
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Keyboard Sonatas, Op. 2/4, Op. 8/1 & 3, Op. 13/6 & WoO 14
PERFORMER: Susan Alexander-Max (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555808
In her booklet note, Susan Alexander-Max claims Clementi’s early sonatas as ‘possibly his greatest compositional achievement’. But unless I’ve lost the plot, the three major-key works here show the composer at his most vapid. The earliest of all, in G major (WoO 14), is a schoolroom exercise in banal galanterie; lavish ornamentation runs to seed in Op. 2/4, while Op. 8/3, though flashily brilliant in style, is hollow in effect. The two minor-key works, though, are on a vastly higher plane, especially the F minor, Op. 13/6, with its spare, linear textures and passionate restlessness.

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Playing on an attractively resonant reproduction fortepiano, Alexander-Max certainly catches the agitation of this music, and shapes a powerful climax in, say, the first-movement development of the F minor. Too often, though, I found her rubato eccentrically wayward, with detail held up for inspection at the expense of a firm underlying pulse. Rhythm-sapping rubato is also a problem in the major-key sonatas, which also suffer from ponderous tempi and lumpy shaping of left-hand figuration. In most of these pieces Alexander-Max has the field to herself. But if you want a single Clementi disc, including the F minor, the Teldec recital from Andreas Staier is in a different class. Richard Wigmore