Notes and Editorial Reviews
Gradus ad Parnassum,
Alessandro Marangoni (pn)
NAXOS 8.572325 (64:15)
Piano Sonatas: in G,
class="ARIAL12b"> in A,
Howard Shelley (pn)
HYPERION CDA67819 (2 CDs: 126:39)
Muzio Clementi was a piano virtuoso of the first rank, as can be seen in his highly demanding and inspired compositions. He was, in addition, an extremely important teacher, who composed one of the most frequently used and cited piano methods, his
Gradus ad Parnassum
. Whether influencing Hummel, Dussek, or Beethoven in his sonatas, or giving material for further teaching to Czerny and Chopin, Clementi, as can be seen in the best music here, was an original composer of some of the most inventive music of his day.
Gradus ad Parnassum
is hardly a concert work. These are exercises that were written to prepare a student for the more demanding works of the day, including many of Clementi’s own. A few pianists—Horowitz included—have brought one or two of these pieces with them into the concert hall. Some of the exercises here are hardly more than workouts for the fingers, built around very simple harmonic frameworks. Occasionally, though, as in exercise 5, one feels that the lyrical quality of the piece was meant to provide more than just a technical challenge but also a musical one. Alessandro Marangoni provides a good guide to these pieces. He can handle the sometimes dauntingly fast scales, double thirds, and arpeggios, bring out the music in the more lyrical ones, while also paying careful attention to the complex counterpoint. Though I would not want to listen to a disc of Clementi studies the same way I would to a disc of Chopin, Liszt, or Rachmaninoff etudes—from beginning to end—the ability to hear these pieces in comparison to his larger works, or for the student who is learning them and wishes to listen to them as they could sound, is attractive.
The sonatas, on the other hand, are concert pieces—they have been neglected by the average pianist for far too long. As I said in my review of Volume 4 (in
33:4), “If one were looking for only a small, representative selection of Clementi, I would recommend waiting for the op. 40 sonatas, some of Clementi’s very best.” Here we are, and Howard Shelley doesn’t disappoint! Not only does he give us the op. 40 sonatas, but the op. 50 ones as well. He is in as high form as before, making the formidable technical demands sound like child’s play, and bringing out a satisfying sense of the drama in this music. The opening of the B-Minor Sonata, while not being particularly difficult in its technical demands, is crucial in setting the mood for the entire work. Shelley infuses the opening with the pathos that it needs, breathing with the music, gently ebbing and flowing dynamically as the tension builds and is released. His slight pause before the faster section leaves one breathless while waiting for the inevitable to ensue. Shelley is equally at home, though, in the lighter, more relaxed mood of the
section of the opening movement of the D-Major Sonata. He brings out its playful mood not only through the rapidity of his playing, but also through his ease of execution, his slight pauses, and his careful articulation. He also shines in the slow movements, never played too slowly, never wanting in its delicate figuration or its sense of forward momentum.
If one were looking for a fantastic recording of Clementi’s sonatas, then one need look no further. If one were also looking for only one volume of Shelley’s series, then this would be it. This is top-notch playing of top-notch music. For those interested in Clementi in general, I would also recommend Horowitz (Sony 731623), Tipo (available as an ArkivCD), Demidenko (Helios 55227), and Michelangeli (BBC Legends 4128). There is some wonderful music here that deserves to be much better known than it is. Shelley is now on the top of my list of contenders in this repertoire.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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