Clementi: Complete Piano Sonatas Vol 6

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COMPOSERS: Clementi
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Complete Piano Sonatas Vol. 6; Piano Sonatas, Op. 40 Nos 1-3; Op. 50, Nos 1-3
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67819

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Hyperion celebrated its 30th anniversary in October, and we have every reason to be grateful that throughout the record label’s existence it has consistently offered ‘complete’ recordings – Purcell Sacred Music, Schubert and Schumann Songs, Brahms Chamber Music and many more – rather than simply cherry-picking the popular, commercially safe items. None has proved more revelatory than this Clementi collection, completed here with Opp. 40 and 50. 

Each volume has shown remarkable variety from Clementi’s fervid imagination. Within these six sonatas alone, you will find Haydnesque verve and lightness opening the G major, Op. 40 No. 1, and Chopin anticipated in the lugubrious waltz-like opening of the G minor, Op. 50 No. 3; the stormy power, allegro con fuoco, of the B minor, Op. 40 No. 2, is of Beethovenian proportions while, elsewhere, two parts dog each other in the severest counterpoint of inverted canon – one part mirroring the other.

The final sonata, the G minor, is the most impassioned of all, and the only one with a sub-title – Didone abbandonata – opening with a ‘scena tragica’. Its third section opens in a mist of half-pedalling, building to high drama before plunging straight into the agitated final ‘disperazione’ (despair).

For all the temptation to compare Clementi with his more familiar contemporaries, a clear and distinctive voice appears through this overview of the complete sonatas.

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Shelley’s technical security allows him to project a sense of ease and spontaneity – warming the musical narrative of the A major, Op. 50 No. 1 with a fluid metre; enlivening the finale of the G major, Op. 40 No. 1 with delicate fleeting triplets; revealing a sublime tranquillity in the slow movement of the D minor, Op. 50 No. 2. The complete set proves a benchmark which I doubt will be moved for a very long time. George Pratt