Clementi: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1: Opp. 1, 2, 7 & 8

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1: Opp. 1, 2, 7 & 8
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Hyperion CDA 67632
Mozart was disparaging about Clementi, and after the two men had taken part in a piano contest in 1781 he dismissed the Italian-born composer as a ‘mere mechanicus’. It’s true that Clementi’s earlier sonatas find him seemingly more interested in demonstrating his own skill at playing rapid octaves and parallel thirds than in creating anything more musically rewarding, but some of his later works of the kind are original and distinctive enough to have aroused more than passing interest from Beethoven. Howard Shelley’s complete survey of the Clementi sonatas proceeds in chronological order, and it’s certainly not his fault if a good few of the pieces on the first in this initial pair of discs don’t always hold the listener’s interest. The musical quality on the second CD is considerably higher, particularly in the two G minor sonatas, Op. 7 No. 3 and Op. 8 No. 1, both of which are cogently argued and compellingly dramatic. There’s a fine slow movement in the E flat Sonata Op. 8 No. 2, too, though the finale, like the last work in the same set, is bottom-drawer stuff. Shelley’s playing is as warm and expressive throughout, and there’s enough enjoyment here to make one look forward to the continuation of his series.