Shelley's Clementi series now comes to the sonatas written after 1784 (although a few earlier works are included, too--the series is not progressing by strict chronology). Clementi had just suffered the emotional devastation of an attempted elopement with a former student, thwarted by the quick pursuit of the young lady's wealthy father. One hates to lend credence to the tabloid-style misconception that a composer's personal life necessarily spills over into his compositions--usually, this isn't true. Nevertheless, there is a new feeling of deeper maturity in these sonatas, which may or may not have anything to do with recent events in the composer's life.
Clementi's trademark passages in double notes are still present, although not so frequent or extended. As Clementi scholar Leon Plantinga puts it in his notes, these works begin to feature "the thicker, saturated keyboard textures he began to favor at this time--the sort of sound that was to become standard for the pianists of Beethoven's generation and later." Also present is an even greater harmonic daring. There is also a new sensitivity and lyricism in the slow movements. It is as if the brash and callow Hercules of Op.2 has suffered anguish. Youthful prowess and virtuosity have been humanized through the wisdom and compassion brought by experience.
This is the first volume of Shelley's series in which he comes into direct comparison with Horowitz. Among other Clementi, the great Russian pianist recorded Op.13 No.6 (in F minor) and the finale of Op.24 No.2--both included in the present volume. Shelley does not suffer in the least by the comparison, although initially I was alarmed that the first movement of Op.13 No.6 is about two minutes longer than Horowitz's! However, this is merely because the British pianist takes the second half repeat--his tempo is actually quicker! Nos.4 and 5 in the same opus figure among the composer's best works, but this troubled F minor sonata is one of Clementi's minor-key masterpieces. It belongs in any serious collection of piano music.
Op.23 No.2 is one of Clementi's most exhilarating major-key sonatas. The first movement bubbles with repeated notes and thirds, but now they are held in reserve for moments when they will make the most contrasting and dramatic effect. The two of Op.24 are also highly interesting. With the Toccata Op.11, Clementi played Op.24 No.2 in Mozart's presence, during their "contest" in Vienna. First published in 1788, it is nicknamed "Magic Flute", because of the resemblance of its opening to the overture of Mozart's opera, premiered in 1791. When the sonata was republished in a revised version in 1804, Clementi was understandably anxious to set the record straight in an explanatory note: "a ete jouee devant S.M.I. L'Empereur Joseph II en 1781. Mozart etant present." This is NOT to imply that Mozart was guilty of deliberate plagiarism--the gesture that opens Clementi's sonata was a common one in the period.
Some of the other sonatas here are easier and less showy works intended for amateur players. Still, they are vivacious and appealing, and no one who favors this or that piece will get any disagreement from me. Under Shelley's hands, movements like the finale of Op.20--which Spada's performance made seem routine--sparkles with personality and Rossinian wit. British publishers of the era did not consider piano concertos and other orchestral music economically viable. Because of the technical demands and virtuoso brilliance of certain movements here and there, musicologists suspect they may be transcriptions of concerto movements that have not survived in their original form.
As for Shelley's Clementi performances, I have sung their praises loud and long in reviews of his two previous volumes, and find every reason to continue doing so here. It is relevant to consider the following: shortly after the abortive elopement mentioned above, Clementi sought solace at the home of a friend in Bern. His host offers a revealing first-hand account of the composer's performing style: "He plays with an inimitable rapture, and with a continual swelling and receding, with unwritten lentando and rubando that it would be impossible to express on paper." Shelley may be trying to a recreate the composer's own playing based on this first-hand witness--whether that is true or not, he is convincing and compelling.
A few words of concern and complaint: The fill on the present discs is rather scant (just under 64 and 60 minutes respectively). Considering HYPERION's generous pricing, "perhaps it is ignoble to complain" (to quote Bernstein's Cunegonde), but there would have been plenty of room to include one more sonata on each of them (i.e., Opp.16 and 26).
At any rate, I impatiently await Volume Four, which I assume will contain the masterful (and, at times, prophetic) sonatas of Opp.25 and 33. For now, I rejoice that the latest volume of this invaluable series is here--highly recommended, especially at HYPERION's medium price.
Other volumes in this series: Vol.I Clementi: The Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1
Vol.II Clementi: The Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Vol.IV Piano Sonatas 4
Vol.V Clementi: Piano Sonatas - Vol.5
Vol.VI Clementi: Piano Sonatas Vol.6
Capriccios and Variations: Clementi: Capriccios & Variations