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Lindsay Kemp
Gramophone, January 2008

The Clementi completists should find plenty to fascinate them here

This is the fifth disc of Clementi piano sonatas to come from Naxos, and the second volume of "early sonatas", for which they have turned to the fortepiano of Susan Alexander-Max. It makes sense to do so, for whereas the later sonatas approach the Romantic manner, these ones date from the early 1780s, right in among Mozart's and Haydn's output ("from Alberti to Chopin" is how New Grove characterises Clementi's creative trajectory), and almost certainly come across better on the smaller and lighter instrument.

Immediately apparent is the degree to which Clementi was expanding piano technique, setting novel virtuoso challenges and creating a wide variety of powerful new textures for future composers to draw upon, not least among them Beethoven. He is clearly foreshadowed in some of the thicker chordal writing here, but there is a hint of the great man's emotional breadth, too, in the best of the sonatas on the disc, Op 7 No 3. Alas, that same inspiration is rarely to be found in the other sonatas: though they frequently show the chipper personality of a Haydn, there is little melodic material of distinction here, and, sad to say, as I listened to some of these fidgety finales I could not suppress the voice in my head whispering Mozart's famous criticism: "mechanicus!"

Susan Alexander-Max draws attention in her booklet-note to Clementi's piano innovations, emphasising the importance of maximising his textural contrasts, of making the piano sound big. In this she certainly succeeds, but often at too great a cost in sheer grace and proper singing tone; only Op 7 No 3 truly seems to inspire her. Ultimately a disc for curious completists only, I suspect.




Andrew Fraser
Limelight Magazine, October 2007

Susan Alexander-Max, playing a copy of a Michael Rosenberger fortepiano, has selected a carefully balanced program from works written between 1781 and 1784 before the composer’s 33rd birthday. …Alexander-Max is an excellent fortepianist with a vigorous technique…showing a lightness of touch.



Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, August 2007

This very engaging CD has several heroes … or heroines. Clementi himself, for writing such interesting and intriguing music; Susan Alexander-Max for playing it with so much insight and intelligence; Derek Adlam for making the fine-sounding copy of a fortepiano of around 1798 on which she interprets the music, the original instrument being the work of Michael Rosengerger, the Bavarian instrument maker who was at work in Vienna from 1796.

Adlam’s copy of Rosenberger’s fortepiano is a joy in itself; it has a very light, pure treble, a lyrical middle register and a pretty solid bass. It has both grace and - relatively speaking - power. It is admirably suited to Clementi’s music – which has, indeed, the same qualities itself. Instrument (and pianist) are entirely at home with the essentially cantabile nature of these early sonatas.

All are in three movements – fast-slow-fast and, in a real sense, all the essentials of what later generations came to think of as the conventions of the piano sonata are already present here. Clementi’s influence on Beethoven, for one, is now well established. Of course, Beethoven does things with the piano sonata that Clementi could hardly have dreamed of, but if one listens, for example, to the Opus 7, no 3 sonata, anticipations of Beethoven, in the use of dynamic contrast, in the sforzando rhetoric of the opening allegro con spirito, in the octave work of the closing presto and in the profound lyricism of the slow movement (cantabile e lento), are unmissable. We have interesting testimony from Anton Schindler (admittedly not always the most reliable of witnesses!) to the effect that Beethoven “had the greatest admiration for these sonatas, considering them the most beautiful, the most pianistic of works, both for their lovely, pleasing, original melodies and for the consistent, easily followed form of each movement.” Listening is enough to tell us that, for once, Schindler can probably be trusted.

But it would be unfair to Clementi just to talk about him in terms of his influence, rather than on the basis of the considerable merits of his own – best - music. In these sonatas there is much that is “lovely [and] pleasing”, especially in the slow movements (try the central larghetto con espressione of Op.11); there are some beautifully made faster movements … as in the prestissimo which closes Op.10, no.1. Perhaps Clementi doesn’t often surprise the modern listener; but that is, in part, because so much of what he did became established practice in the piano music of the nineteenth century; we listen to Clementi having heard what followed him and consequently fail to appreciate the considerable originality and sheer quality of much of his writing for the keyboard.

As she was in an earlier Clementi collection for Naxos (Early Piano Sonatas, 8.555808) Susan Alexander-Max proves herself to be a thoroughly persuasive advocate for this still underrated music. She allows herself proper freedoms of interpretation but within an evident respect for Clementi and his achievement. If you haven’t yet discovered that there is more to Clementi than the didactic Gradus ad Parnassum and the relatively simple Sonatinas, you now have a further excellent chance to do so.



Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, July 2007

This artist has a real affinity for the early classical keyboard style, which was to have such a profound influence on Mozart and Beethoven, among others. Yet these early works sound so Haydnesque, as to make one wonder which came first. Susan Alexander-Max provides exhaustive notes on the music, and plays an instrument (by Derek Adlam) that is patterned after a 1798 instrument, with good resonance.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2007

Muzio?Clementi?came to England rightly believing that life for a composer would be far less competitive than in his native Italy, and soon found himself in great demand as a keyboard exponent and conductor. His fame continued to grow with his tours of Europe, eventually resulting in a competition with Mozart in 1781 to establish who was the leading performer. Though the result was inconclusive, Mozart seems to have been preferred. Back home in England his success was cut short by the triumphant first visit of Haydn, and he moved the emphasis of his life to that of the most successful music publishing house. That allowed him to further the cause of his own music including his large output for keyboard, his series of sonatas playing a role in the development of that form of music. He certainly could write highly attractive works, but it was a quantum leap to the sonatas of Beethoven which were to follow. This is the second disc is the series of a projected cycle and concentrates on the early sonatas persuasively played by Susan Alexander-Max.?Born in New York she has enjoyed a career as a concert pianist before deciding in 1996 to dedicate herself to period instrument performances. She plays this modern reproduction fortepiano with great clarity and is suitably nimble in Clementi's fast finales. If you want to sample the music try track 3, the Rondo finale to the opus 11 sonata, its quick and lively atmosphere showing the music at its best. The recording made in London is very good.






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