Notes and Editorial Reviews
One tends to think of Clementi as an important figure in the history of early piano manufacture, as a great keyboard virtuoso rivalling Mozart, and as a composer of pleasant little pieces for children to play. These sets of CDs of Clementi’s keyboard music make us think again. Much of his music does seem formulaic, if I dare say so, in a similar way to that of Vivaldi. These performances made me realise that there is much more to Clementi than that.
In Volume 5 Mastroprimiano uses a Clementi fortepiano of 1828. The Sonata in G minor Op. 34 No.2 is a very fine work, reminding us of how Mozart used that key so effectively. The piece begins with a Largo e sostenuto which sets a tragic tone, and this is followed by an Allegro
con fuoco which uses and develops the same motif, with much dissonance, chromaticism and counterpoint. In this movement maybe Howard Shelley’s modern instrument scores over Mastroprimiano’s version because of its ability to sustain the opening slow music. Howard Shelley plays this movement with appropriate bravura and subtle rubato. However Mastroprimiano also gives an excellent performance though today I have a preference for Shelley. The second movement, marked Un poco adagio is beautifully played by Mastroprimiano, but once again Shelley can produce a much more sustained tone on his modern piano albeit in a more romantic style. The final Molto allegro is played with appropriate virtuosity by both players. So if you still think of Clementi as a rather minor composer, have a listen to this. Definitely a piece worth getting to know, I would say!
The six sonatinas that comprise Op. 36 are pedagogical pieces, still used to great effect by teachers and their students today. They are tuneful, full of character and rhythmic vitality, and they serve their purpose admirably. In the first movement of Op. 36 No.1 Mastroprimiano’s instrument has an almost explosive quality in the staccato playing. He is not quite as fast as Howard Shelley on the modern piano, who discovers wit and humour in this movement. I like Shelley’s seemingly spontaneous ornamentation in the repeats in the second movement. In Op. 36 No.4, Shelley brings out the sadness and pathos in the Andante con espressione second movement in a quite slow performance. Mastroprimiano starts slowly gradually moving forward, but the mood is more of quiet contemplation. In the fast movements, his Clementi fortepiano is well able to cope with the clear articulation necessary, particularly at such high speeds. However we do hear a few characteristic twangs now and then which either add to the charm or irritate you depending on your reaction to the sound of these early keyboards.
Mastroprimiano plays the first movement of Op. 37 No.1 with beautiful tone and touch making subtle use of the new damper mechanism available on Clementi’s instruments. Shelley plays this movement, and many others, considerably faster than Mastroprimiano, and he displays stunning passagework with great variety in his articulation. However Mastroprimiano and his instrument give us a much clearer insight as to how these works may have sounded in Clementi’s day. They make Shelley’s performances seem very inauthentic and a little artificial, but maybe this is only an impression I get because I heard the Mastroprimiano first! In the finale of Op. 37 No.3, Mastroprimiano’s fractionally slower tempo allows more breathing space and greater clarity. His period instrument makes the special blurry effect of the ‘open pedal’ very telling. The tonic pedal below the main rondo theme sounds like bees buzzing around in a bag. The modern piano version seems a bit tame after that.
In many ways Clementi’s sonatas are more difficult to play than Mozart’s. Although Mozart had no time for Clementi, Beethoven greatly admired him and there is no doubt that Clementi had a great influence on the early Romantic composers. Clementi was interested in developing a real legato style of playing on his newly built keyboard instruments. Much of Clementi’s music is inspired, often beautiful, sometimes dramatic and frequently virtuosic. If I had to choose between the two versions I would go for the Mastroprimiano whose performances really show us how these pieces might have sounded in Clementi’s day, with great variety and clarity of texture and telling articulation.
-- Geoffrey Molyneux, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Piano Sonata in D major, Op. 37/3 by Muzio Clementi
Costantino Mastroprimiano (Fortepiano)
Date of Recording: 07/2009
Length: 14 Minutes 17 Secs.
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