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Hyperion Records

CDH55227 - Clementi: Piano Sonatas

Recording details: December 1994
Snape Maltings, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Ates Orga
Engineered by Ken Blair
Release date: July 2006
Total duration: 68 minutes 0 seconds

'Demidenko brings enormous gravitas and spirituality. The fire and dash he lavishes on the quicker movements make this highly enjoyable disc no less exciting than any of his Medtner, Chopin or Rachmaninov releases on Hyperion' (Hi Fi News)

'If your acquaintance with Clementi's output is limited to the Op 36 Sonatinas you dutifully practised in your youth, Demidenko's exalted interpretation of Clementi will come as nothing short of a revelation. This release serves as a landmark recording of these unjustly neglected masterworks' (Soundscapes, Australia)

'Fervent, expressive … big-boned performances' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Demidenko hurls himself into this music with scintillating flair. A disc for the musically adventurous, certainly' (Audiophile Audition)

'Nikolai Demidenko's performances radiate pianistic joy in every bar… You can't deny that Clementi and Demidenko were made for each other, and that this release remains an irrepressible standout in the controversial pianist's discography' (

'This is a welcome reissue of an immaculate disc. Demidenko's playing is crisp, precise, and at the same time heartfelt' (Musical Pointers)

Piano Sonatas
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Remembered as one of the most noted and influential musicians of Classico–Romantic Europe, ‘the first of the great virtuosos’ (Harold C Schonberg, 1963), Muzio Clementi, born in Rome, spent the greater part of his life in England, working variously as composer, pianist, teacher (his pupils including Czerny, Field and Meyerbeer), publisher (of Beethoven among others), and piano maker. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

‘Clementi’, wrote Edward Dannreuther over a century ago, ‘may be regarded as the originator of the proper treatment of the modern pianoforte … He is the first completely equipped writer of sonatas. Even as early as his Op 2 [published in 1779] the form sketched by Scarlatti and amplified by C P E Bach is completely systematized, and it has not changed in any essential point since. Clementi’, Dannreuther continues, ‘represents the sonata proper from beginning to end. He played and imitated Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas in his youth, he knew Haydn’s and Mozart’s in his manhood, and he was aware of Beethoven’s in his old age; yet he preserved his artistic physiognomy—the physiognomy not of a man of genius, but of a man of the rarest talents—from first to last.’ Enjoying a long life, spanning successive generations from Handel and Gluck to Berlioz and Liszt, he was valued highly by Beethoven and admired in particular by Brahms (for whom, according to Clara Schumann’s Diary, 11 November 1861, he ranked notably ‘on account of his great, free form’). His often remarkable influence on the early sonatas of Beethoven has been usefully examined by Harold Truscott (Arnold and Fortune, The Beethoven Companion, 1971).

Sonata in B flat major Op 24 No 2
Clementi visited Vienna in December 1781, playing the B flat Sonata from Op 24 before an audience that included Joseph II and Mozart. He ‘plays well, so far as execution with the right hand goes’, Mozart reported to his father (12 January 1782). ‘His greatest strength lies in his passages in thirds. Apart from this, he has not a pennyworth of taste or feeling—in short he is simply a mechanicus.’ (Clementi was more generous to his famous rival, publicly acknowledging his ‘singing touch and exquisite taste’.) Comprising a terse sonata Allegro (launched by an idea Mozart was to recollect/steal years later for his Magic Flute Overture), an expressive slow movement in the dominant, and a brilliantly ‘running’ Rondo finale, the B flat Sonata was first published by Storace of Howland Street, Rathbone Place, London, as part of a ‘Collection of Original Harpsichord Music’ (entered Stationers’ Hall, 23 July 1788).

Sonata in F sharp minor Op 25 No 5
The F sharp minor Sonata—usually identified as Op 26 No 2 but in fact published originally by Dale of London as the fifth of ‘Six Sonatas for the Piano Forte; dedicated to Mrs Meyrick … Opera 25’ (entered Stationers’ Hall, 8 June 1790)—is an example of what Shedlock in 1895 defined as that class of Clementi work where ‘his heart and soul were engaged’ to the full. The tenor of its first movement is a mixture of dolce expression, capricious fingerwork, off-beat sforzando accents, teasing articulation (the slurs and dots tell in an orchestral way), and tonal surprise (not least the polarity of the exposition which closes in the dominant minor, C sharp, rather than the expected relative major, A, of Classical routine). The reprise—expanded and developmental—is irregular: alternately bleak and brilliant in figuration and character, what it does in particular with the opening idea (imitatively, registrally, harmonically) is wittily provocative.

The middle slow movement is in B minor, a poignantly felt song, potently textured and voiced, dramatic in its contrasts of soft and loud, of minorial pathos and sweet maggiore release, of dark diminished-seventh tension, of poetically meaningful ornamentation. Structurally its shape is elegant and balanced, combining breadth of phrasing with economy of expression. The 3/8 Presto finale is an imaginatively inventive cameo of Scarlattian brilliance and Mendelssohnian fleetness, of glittering thirds and equally elfin and stormy octaves. Historically, such music is Classical. Temperamentally, it is Romantic.

Sonata in B minor Op 40 No 2
Sonata in D major Op 40 No 3
The three turn-of-the-century Op 40 Sonatas were issued in 1802 in London (entered Stationers’ Hall, 11 September), Paris (October) and Vienna (November). As Harold Truscott has shown (to the point of comparative illustration) the Allegro con fuoco of the B minor, No 2, and the Adagio molto of the D major, No 3, have much in common with the first two movements of Beethoven’s D major Sonata, Op 10 No 3 (published four years earlier). Coincidence? Plagiarism? Who now was influencing whom? Or was it simply that both composers were men of their time, speaking the same lingua musica? We cannot be sure. The links though are certainly uncanny. Not quite a sonata quasi una fantasia, but with plenty of fantasy in its bones, the B minor is an extraordinary affair. Prefaced by a slow introduction (track 10)—a tempestuous mix of Classical rigour, Hungarian fire and a moment of bass shift that might almost be out of Beethoven’s yet-to-be-printed Op 31 No 2 (fourteen bars before the end of the exposition)—the first movement is large-scaled, with the exposition (repeated) closing in the dominant minor (cf Op 25 No 5), followed by a lengthy development that contrasts exposed, icy two-part legato canonic writing (very Clementian, cf the minore of the companion D major Sonata’s finale) with brilliant staccato attack, crisp thirds/sixths and bravura broken octaves. The second movement, combining the functions of alternating adagio and finale, is a curious structure: A1 (Largo)—B1 (Allegro)—A2 (Molto adagio)—B2 (Presto). A1 is a sonata design, with the start of the development section alluding back cyclically to the pair of right-hand diminished sevenths a fourth apart which round off the slow introduction of the first movement. The recapitulation omits the first subject which is brought back instead in A2, a ferocious, speeded-up coda of virtuoso figuration and punched-out cadence. The bleak, sparse, recitative-like slow sections variously remember C P E Bach and beckon late Beethoven.

Announced by a portentous double-dotted introduction in the minor, the D major, Op 40 No 3, is more conventional, a sonata in the brillante style which looks equally to Mozart and Beethoven. Its most immediately Beethovenian coincidence (‘Waldstein’ link-passages apart) is the lyrical first subject of the first movement, an idea whose combination of tonic pedal-note drone and flattened-seventh subdominant colour brings to mind at once the opening of Beethoven’s ‘Pastorale’ Sonata, Op 28 (in the same key), published in Vienna the previous month—a work whose subsequent first-movement developmental climax on F sharp (viewed as the dominant of the submediant, B) is likewise shared. The most Mozartian aspect is the dolce element of the same Allegro’s second subject group, a theme whose quality of child-like innocence can also remind one of Schubert (the Rondo of the D major Sonata, D850, for instance). Initially, the C natural inflexion of the first subject is harmonic. Latterly, in the polyphony of the development section, it becomes tonal—an interesting example of organic long-term association. Leading straight into the finale (a bright sonata-rondo with a tricky canonic minore), the D minor slow movement, a yearning tapestry of rich gran espressione feeling, supported by wondrous harmonic sonority, embellishment and voicing, concentrates the attention differently. ‘For the Piano Forte’, says the first edition—rightly. Here indeed is music born out of an instrument already modern.

Ates Orga © 1995

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