Francesco La Vecchia / Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma

Clementi: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2; Overture in D major

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Italian composer Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) is known almost exclusively for his piano sonatas, which remain an integral part of piano tuition around the world. It turns out that he also wrote six symphonies, some copies of which he may have destroyed. His second-guesser was composer and musicologist Alfredo Casella, who found the two symphonies recorded here in parts in the U.S. Library of Congress and reconstructed them. As it happens, they're worth hearing. They show the clear influence of Beethoven and must therefore date from toward the end of Clementi's long life, but even taking that into account their mastery is impressive. The two slow movements, especially, are convincing replicas of Beethoven's tragic mode. If one suggests the 1810s as a probable decade of composition, there were just a few other composers, including Beethoven's student Ferdinand Ries, who were producing comparable work, and Clementi's accomplishment is even more surprising given that he had no known talent for orchestral music. You won't remember the themes as you do Beethoven's, but there are some very nice orchestral touches. A symphony orchestra could easily program either of these works at the beginning of a Beethoven concert and leave the crowd happy. But the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma under Francesco La Vecchia doesn't quite do the job here; the strings lack crispness in the outer-movement passagework, and the whole production requires a bit more energy. Naxos gets good engineering results here in Rome's OSR Studios.

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