Howard Shelley

Clementi: The Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 6

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The sixth and final volume of Howard Shelley's traversal of all of Muzio Clementi's piano sonatas contains not only among the last sonatas Clementi composed, but ones considered by most to be his best. The three sonatas of Op. 40 date from 1802, when Clementi was 50 years old, while the Op. 50 sonatas were written nearly 20 years later. The technical level of skill required in these demonstrates that they were not written for young students or less-advanced amateur players, but they also are not as ostentatious as some of his earlier sonatas written as audience-pleasers when he was a touring pianist. These are more equivalent to Beethoven's early and middle-period sonatas. There is plenty dramatic interest in this music, which is not to say that it's dark and stormy or heroic Romantic music, but there is earnest seriousness in places, usually in the first movements and especially in those with a slow introduction. The slow movements, especially in Shelley's very expressive hands, have a Classical gracefulness combined with some Romantic sentiment. The final sonata, Didone Abbandonata, is presumed to be a programmatic reference to the story of Dido as set by Metastasio. There are poignant and tragic sounds in the opening, and the sonata is by far more theatrical than any of Clementi's others. Shelley brings out the bittersweet aspects, as befits the story, as he plays with facile strength. He never forces the drama out of the music, but lets it come naturally, especially in the exciting finale, which makes a fitting end to a worthy series of recordings.

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