Clementi: Capriccios and Variations

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COMPOSERS: Clementi
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Capriccios in B flat; in A; in F; in E minor & in C; Musical Characteristics; The Black Joke with 21 Variations, WO2 etc
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 152:43 mins (2 discs)

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Following Hyperion’s trail-blazing six-CD project of the complete Sonatas, this additional volume hoovers up what remains of Clementi’s complete works for piano – five substantial capriccios, four sets of variations, 12 light-weight ‘monferrinas’, (dances ‘peculiar to the northern Italian state of Monferrato’), and six pairs of preludes imitating Haydn, Mozart and others, ending wryly with Clementi himself. It has been a fascinating journey through 50 years of Clementi’s development, from the Classical scale of 1771 to works of almost Beethovenian proportions, with a nostalgic diversion via the Six Progressive Sonatinas Op. 36, childhood fare for many of us.

La chasse escaped the earlier net, although it’s virtually a three-movement sonata. Its Allegro assai finale is particularly alluring, opening with witty near-modulations which just fail to make it. The Capriccios have an improvisatory quality, technically very demanding. The last two, Op. 47, open with impassioned Adagios, one of them in a fluid 5/4 time.

The variations are delightful, not least the earliest, The Black Joke, an Irish folktune with 21 brief sections. Even the slightest, most trivial pieces are enhanced by Howard Shelley’s brisk tempos, and he’s served by an infallible technique, from virtuoso finger-dexterity to deeply expressive, spacious reflection elsewhere.

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Mozart petulantly damned Clementi as without ‘taste or feeling – simply a mechanicus’. Inevitably one compares Clementi with his predecessors and contemporaries – ‘Haydnesque, Beethovenian, worthy of Chopin’ – but from the six discs of Sonatas, complemented by these varied remaining pieces, emerges the distinctive voice of, at best, a truly outstanding composer. George Pratt