Having recently reviewed
a disc of Clementi played on a period instrument (see review).
I was interested to hear this recent recording of Clementi on
a modern instrument. It is quite good and shows several sides
to the composer. Clementi played piano as a child and has been
remembered primarily as the composer of small pieces one had
to practise in lessons for the teacher. These sonatas will show
the casual listener that he is anything but minor-league.
The Op. 34 No. 2 is
stormy and stern, with a quicksilver left-hand part. It slips
into a quiet, gentle section that, with its instability of mood,
in turn slides back into the first theme. After such an outburst,
the tranquil second movement is almost surprisingly simple and
restrained. It isn’t until five minutes into the movement that
the tension begins to mount. Then, with a repeated four-note
figure, we glide smoothly into the coda. Following this, and
reminding one of Beethoven even more than the Largo e sostenuto
that began the piece, the finale is a bravura movement that
has many rapid-fire changes in mood and carries itself to the
close with irrepressible force. This piece should certainly
be performed more often.
The second sonata here,
the Op. 50 No. 1, begins gently and maintains a sunny aspect
throughout its first movement. Again, the closest analogue is
Clementi’s contemporary, Beethoven. The tone, however, changes
in the slow movement to ally itself with Bach; a grave opening
statement gives us a motif used contrapuntally. The overall
form of the movement is a surprisingly “old-fashioned” slant
for the time in which it was composed. The third movement returns
to what its first hearers would consider a more “modern” sound.
The disc ends with
a rather low-key piece that has little of the first sonata’s
turbulence or the unusual structure of the second. This, the
Op. 41, stays in tried-and-true territory in its three-movement,
Allegro/Adagio/Allegro format. In comparison, the Op. 41 is
the one that is most pleasant, which tends to mean it
possesses the fewest surprises. The last movement has its technical
pitfalls, with Clementi’s trademark runs of thirds and some
quick passages, but overall it lacks the punch and innovation
of the other two presented here.
Tanya Bannister plays
these sonatas clearly with a minimum of bombast or sentimentality;
these pieces have little need of either. Naxos have been releasing various discs of Clementi’s piano
music over the last few years. Other labels have flirted with
a Clementi series — MDG has a few discs released and Arts Music
made a very serious start with its box sets featuring Pietro
Spada. This present recording gives me reason to wish that Naxos continue to release more Clementi. These are highly
competent and assured performances from Bannister. Recommended.