Clementi Piano Sonatas, Op. 25, 33 & 49 – more than mechanical

Mozart wrote, “Clementi is a good clavicembalist and with this, there is no more to say. He plays well with his right hand, his strong point is the passages in thirds. For the rest he has no sentiment or taste, – in a word he is simply a mechanicus.”

I’m not sure I entirely agree with that assessment — especially after listening to this recording. Yes, Clementi often uses thirds. But his music is technically challenging. And in the right hands (as they are here), quite interesting.

Most of the sonatas on this release come from the early 1790s when Clementi was in direct competition with Mozart. The textures of the Op. 25 and Op. 33 sonatas are transparent. Clementi does favor the right hand, giving it the complicated runs while the left outlines the harmonies (or in some cases simple melodies).

I found the Op. 46 sonata especially interesting. It was written in 1820, fifteen years after the previous sonatas. It’s a more complex work, with thicker textures and more of a balance between the hands. And yet, it’s a sonata that was published the same year as Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109. Clementi’s sonata pales in comparison. It’s a simpler work and one that almost sounds old-fashioned. Advanced for Clementi, but lagging compared to his contemporaries.

However, these works lack neither sentiment nor taste. All are skillfully constructed. And taken on their own merits, are quite attractive.

Stefan Chaplikov plays elegantly, and with a light touch. The rapid passages flow smoothly and seemingly without effort. Chaplikov favors soft rather than loud dynamics, but that’s in keeping with the music. If you like Mozart and Haydn piano music, you should enjoy this release as well.

Muzio Clementi: Keyboard Sonatas
Op. 33, Nos. 2 & 3; Op. 46, Op. 25, Nos. 1 & 3
Stefan Chaplikov, piano
Naxos

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