Clementi: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Opp. 25, 26, 44 & 41
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano)

After their famous piano duel by command of the Austrian Emperor, Clementi praised Mozart’s ‘spirit and grace’. His opponent called Clementi ‘a mere mechanicus’, ‘a Charlatan, like all Italians’.
By now, two thirds of the way through this excellent project, Shelley has thoroughly refuted such spiteful criticism. The demands of these sonatas vary, from lightweight pieces for amateur pianists such as the Haydnesque rondo of Op. 25 No. 2, plumbing minore depths after its charmingly naive major opening.
Elsewhere there are spectacular demands on the virtuosity of a ‘mechanicus’; it would take a particularly nimble-fingered amateur to make a decent fist of the fast running thirds and sparkling figurations of Op. 25 No. 1. There are pre-echoes of Chopin in the rhythmically fluid Maestoso of Op. 25 No. 4, and a profoundly pensive lento e patetico in Op. 25 No. 5 – beautifully flexible playing. 
While nothing here quite achieves the Beethovenian gravitas of movements in Vol. 3, the A major Sonata Op. 33 No. 1 is a fine piece, tautly constructed, its Presto second movement full of chromatic sequences wandering into unexpected harmonic regions.
Shelley is a first-rate advocate, with passage-work of crystalline clarity, light-footed pedalling, and communicating a sense of deep commitment to this unjustly under-rated repertoire.
The sound, within the two-dimensional limits of stereo, could not be better. Unreservedly recommended. George Pratt