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Patrick Rucker
Fanfare, September 2010

…elegant and committed performances of Susan Alexander-Max in the latest installment of her ongoing series of the early Clementi sonatas for Naxos…Naturally for a composer whose works are considered the foundation of what may be achieved on the piano, the choice of an instrument that Clementi himself would recognize is an enormous advantage. In this case, a replica of a late 18th-century Michael Rosenberger piano by Derek Adlam provides an added dimension to these performances. But it is the probingly sensitive artistry of Alexander-Max that leaves no doubt why Clementi was so celebrated in his day and so influential on subsequent generations. The two-movement F-Major Sonata without opus number, for instance, stands out as a finely honed minor masterpiece despite its faux-naïveté. The other two-movement work on this disc, the E♭-Sonata, written in Vienna, opens with a fully fledged Adagio, invested here with all the breadth and ardor of an opera scena. Yet it only hints at the cantabile eloquence Alexander-Max brings to the Larghetto of the op. 13 F-Major Sonata. Reviewing the second volume of this series I mentioned the extraordinary variety of touch and articulation that characterize her playing. Having now heard more of her work, I would add that her grasp of Clementi’s idiom is enormously sophisticated, reflecting an acute understanding of his stylistic development within the context of turn-of-the-19th century piano playing. Alexander-Max exploits the distinctive sonorities of her piano’s registers with a fine ear for instrumental color, making it a joy to listen to her boldly imaginative interpretations…the vivid, thoughtful, and loving performances of Susan Alexander-Max make her Clementi’s most eloquent advocate.

James Manheim, June 2010

These sonatas, in two or three movements, are attractive on their own terms, as well…In Alexander-Max’s concise formulation, “They introduce the public to a new virtuosity which was exploring a newly developed instrument in a society that was changing as rapidly.” Alexander-Max uses a modern replica of a 1797 Viennese fortepiano by Michael Rosenberger—a heavy, muscular instrument that outdoes the familiar Walter examples from the same period for sheer power—and her readings aim toward and succeed in bringing out the variety of textures and accents implicit in Clementi’s seemingly innocent melodic lines. Like the other discs in Alexander-Max’s ongoing series, this one is strongly recommended for anyone with the slightest interest in the music of the late 18th century, and it is as good a place to start as any other with the music in the air when Beethoven was a student…

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2010

Muzio Clementi’s name shot into the media headlines when he took part in a concert with Mozart in 1781 to establish who was the leading performer of their time. The outcome was inconclusive, but it only reinforced his standing in Europe. That he reached that point only came with his decision to leave his native Italy and settle in England where he thought life for a composer would be far less competitive. He was proved correct, and was soon in great demand as a keyboard exponent and conductor, and it provided the springboard for a career touring around Europe. His London fame came to an end with the triumphant first visit of Haydn, at which time he founded a highly successful music publishing house that he used to give widespread circulation to his music. As a composer he created a large volume of keyboard sonatas, and in this, the third disc of his early works, we have five sonatas from the 1780s. The close relationship with Mozart is immediately evident with the opus 20 sonata, a work of many delights with a showpiece final Allegro con fuoco. Much has been written of his development of a legato style of composition, but it is the pungency of his writing that strikes one. Turn to the first of the opus 9 (track 8) to enjoy the strong rhythm and dynamic contrasts that are a precursor of Beethoven. The New York-based Susan Alexander-Max has in recent years dedicate herself to period instrument performances. Her playing, crisp, beautifully articulated and nimble in presto finales. She plays a reproduction Viennese fortepiano from about the time of these works, and has the power the music demands. The recording made in London is very good. A valuable series to the CD catalogue.

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