WORKS: Vol 1: Two Symphonies Op. 18; Minuetto Pastorale; Piano Concerto in C
PERFORMER: Pietro Spada (piano)The Philharmonia/Francesco D’Avalos
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 802/3/4 DDD
A new recording of the symphonies of the Italian-born English composer Muzio Clementi is long overdue, and ASV and D’Avalos are to be congratulated on their enterprise in rescuing such worthwhile but overlooked music.
Clementi is remembered as a keyboard player and teacher, music publisher, piano manufacturer and composer of piano sonatas. Despite the popular success of his four mature symphonies during his lifetime, he never published them and they virtually disappeared for a century after his death. Their continued neglect since they have resurfaced in more recent times is harder to understand, given their quality. To my knowledge, they have only been recorded once before – 15 years ago, also by the Philharmonia (under Claudio Scimone) for Erato.
The symphonies are large-scale works which straddle the Classical and Romantic eras, and while they recall Haydn in their structure and Beethoven in their revolutionary idiom, the richness of their orchestral colouring (enhanced by three trombones) projects well into the 19th century. Combining skilful counterpoint, tunefulness and Italianate warmth, Clementi appeals both to head and heart. The Third Symphony is notable for his highly imaginative use of the national anthem for variations in the Minuet, and there are passages in both the Third and the Fourth which anticipate Brahms.
The recordings are rather forwardly balanced; uncomfortably so in Volume 3. But the performances have a winning enthusiasm and no one should be deterred from investigating these impressive and enjoyable works. The discs are available as a set and separately. David Michaels