HyeJin Kim beautifully performs early Clementi

Consider this the origin story. Muzio Clementi had a long and (mostly) successful musical career. He was a pianist, composer, publisher, and piano manufacturer. His popularity at times rivaled that of Haydn and Beethoven, both as a performer and a composer.

There is no shortage of Clementi piano sonata recordings. Most focus on his mid-to-late period works. I’ve always been curious about what his earliest sonatas sounded like. Where did he start from as a composer?

This release presents some of Clementi’s Opus 1 sonatas, published in 1771. They might not be the very first pieces he wrote, but they were the first published. Close enough for this origin story.

By 1771, the fortepiano had almost supplanted the harpsichord. The Galante style was all the rage. And Clementi’s Opus 1 sonatas fill the bill. His melodies are simple and tuneful — like Johann Christian Bach’s. The voicing is light, often just two notes at a time — like Franz Joseph Haydn’s.

HyeJin Kim plays these sonatas with a light touch. Her phrasing shapes the music beautifully. Simple scales and arpeggiated chords become meaningful. Subtle changes in volume and attacks add depth.

Also included are sonatas from Clementi’s Opus 10 and Opus 12 sets, published in 1783 and 1784. The Classical Era by well underway by this time. Mozart had published his 12th piano sonata.

Clementi’s sonatas acknowledge the bar Mozart raised. These are much more complex pieces, with more fully-developed themes.

Clementi was still composing with the amateur market in mind. But these works require a higher degree of skill than the beginner.

Kim shines in these later works. With more substantial material to work with, her innate musicality takes wing. Clementi isn’t Beethoven. Even at their most dramatic, these sonatas require a little restraint. Kim manages that, without blunting the impact of double-forte crescendos.

A nice addition to Naxos’ library of Clementi sonatas.

Muzio Clementi: Keyboard Sonatas
Op. 1, Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 5; Op. 10, Nos. 20 and 3; Op. 12, Nos. 2 and 3
HyeJin Kim, piano
Naxos 8.574171

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