Clementi: Complete Piano Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Clementi
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: PIano Sonatas, Vol. 5: Two Sonatas, Op. 34; Six Progressive Sonatinas, Op. 36; Three Sonatas, Op. 37; Sonata in B flat, Op. 46
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67814

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Howard Shelley continues to restore Clementi’s reputation, overshadowed in his time, and since, by Haydn, with this varied selection from the Six Sonatinas to Op. 34/2 of Beethovenian proportions.

His playing is exemplary, with a gloriously fluent technique and a most perceptive interpretational approach. For the dark, sombre opening of the slow movement of Op. 34/1 he capitalises on the velvety tone of his Steinway’s lower register; he exposes every appearance of the opening figure of Op. 34/2, developed almost obsessively and then coming back 20 minutes later to close the last movement. 

The Six Sonatinas here prove particularly nostalgic, core repertoire from many a pianist’s childhood and perfect miniature paradigms of classical sonata form. They’re endowed with sparklingly fleet allegros and inventively decorated slow movements – No. 1 repeated with luxuriant ornaments, No. 3 bathed in the warm glow of the piano’s sustaining pedal.

The second disc contains four larger-scale sonatas including Op. 46, which at 23 minutes is a weighty piece in length if less so in substance. Op. 37 No. 3 includes a lengthy drone-bass, 32 bars on a single D that elicited caustic criticism, described at the time as ‘a mannerism [imitating] bagpipes, the favourite and almost the only instrument of the Scots’. 

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With five discs down and one to go, Shelley is creating a benchmark for Clementi’s solo piano music which I doubt will be moved in the foreseeable future and this volume’s two-discs-for-the-price-of-one is an irresistible offering. George Pratt