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David Jacobsen
American Record Guide, May 2011

I find some of the exercises, especially in the hands of Alessandro Marangoni, to be brilliant displays of virtuosity. This reminds us of the mastery required for effective piano playing and does not, in any way, turn into repetitive finger marching.

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Scott Noriega
Fanfare, March 2011

The Gradus ad Parnassum is hardly a concert work. These are exercises that were written to prepare a student for the more demanding works of the day, including many of Clementi’s own. A few pianists—Horowitz included—have brought one or two of these pieces with them into the concert hall. Some of the exercises here are hardly more than workouts for the fingers, built around very simple harmonic frameworks. Occasionally, though, as in exercise 5, one feels that the lyrical quality of the piece was meant to provide more than just a technical challenge but also a musical one. Alessandro Marangoni provides a good guide to these pieces. He can handle the sometimes dauntingly fast scales, double thirds, and arpeggios, bring out the music in the more lyrical ones, while also paying careful attention to the complex counterpoint. Though I would not want to listen to a disc of Clementi studies the same way I would to a disc of Chopin, Liszt, or Rachmaninoff etudes—from beginning to end—the ability to hear these pieces in comparison to his larger works, or for the student who is learning them and wishes to listen to them as they could sound, is attractive.

Patsy Morita, December 2010

Etudes and exercises—the musical equivalent of the multiplication tables—have two extremes: either they are too repetitive and boring even for the performer to practice or they are so musical sounding that it’s hard to believe the performer is learning anything from them. The latter type would be exemplified by the piano etudes of Chopin and Debussy; the former by Hanon. Muzio Clementi’s celebrated and didactic Gradus ad Parnassum contains 44 exercises, and most listeners, and pianists definitely, will be happy to hear that they fall closer to the musical end of the spectrum. Alessandro Marangoni has recorded all 44, with this disc covering the first 24. Clementi is obviously training the pianist in a particular technique through repetition, but there is always some melodic element and often an element of compositional structure as well. Nos. 9–11 and Nos. 12–15 are suites, and each has a piece using fugal counterpoint. Nos. 16 and 17 are perpetual motion exercises that mirror each other by changing the dominant hand. While Clementi’s etudes do not approach the level of appeal or memorability those of Chopin or Debussy, they are able to capture the player’s interest. They are also quite substantive, as Marangoni seems to dig right into them as if he were tackling a large project that needs to be finished. Often, he sounds as if he is enjoying himself and the fact that he’s able to handle the challenges, although there are spots, such as in No. 17, where he momentarily loses steam. The second suite is where Marangoni applies the most interpretive choices, giving the fugue (No. 13) and Adagio sostenuto some expressive shaping. However, within most of these exercises, there could be even more musicality or tonal coloring, even though they do not fully embrace the Romantic era stylistically. The somewhat tinny and cold sound of the recording doesn’t help in this respect, either. Yet, Marangoni’s recording satisfactorily illustrates that these exercises are much more approachable than not, for anyone who’s been curious about this famous, but rarely heard, collection.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

If you aspire to playing this series of piano studies, then Alessandro Marangoni will provide the ideal guide to their demands. It was a wealthy Englishman who brought the highly gifted teenage Italian Muzio Clementi to London in 1766 and provided him with seven years intensive tuition at the keyboard and in composition. Other than as a visitor, Clementi never returned to his homeland, but was to become England’s most famous keyboard virtuoso and composer of his era. He may have written some early works, but his earliest known scores, that made his impact as a composer, was a group of six keyboard sonatas from 1779. Finance gained from concert performances allowed him to purchase a bankrupt instrument maker in London, and he there developed one of the most highly regarded piano-making companies. His promotion of these instruments, and the development of a music-publishing business, eventually left little time for composition, but he was a distinguished teacher of the instrument, and, linking these two parts of his life together, he composed a teaching manual, ‘The Art of Playing on the Piano  Forte, Exemplified in a series of Exercises’. As you will hear from the very first study, these are for students who have already reached a high grade of accomplishment and are looking towards college education. The disc contains the first twenty-four, the bulk being fast and requiring considerable dexterity. They were never intended as a concert work, but have sufficient melodic invention to make pleasant listening. Marangoni enjoys flexing his considerable technical expertise, and the sound quality is pleasing.

Dace Gislard, October 2010

The next time you play "drop the needle," try programming, say, the first and last tracks of this CD and challenge your friends to name the composer. Chances are the guesses will range from "Schumann" or "Mendelssohn" to perhaps "Moscheles," "Hummel", "Dussek", or even "early Liszt"!

I've heard a LOT of Clementi's piano music (the equivalent of 20 CD's), including a bit of "Gradus," but not even the piano sonatas prepared me for many of the pieces on this disc. Historically speaking, "Gradus" was completed in 1826, and is a compendium of "exercises" collected from all periods of the composer's career. (Do not be put off by the word "exercises"--"Gradus" contains a great variety of genres--sonata allegros, slow movements, fugues, toccatas, etc.) The "received wisdom" from music historians and piano teachers is that "Gradus" is nothing but a collection of dry pattern drills, perpetrated for torturing young pianists and boring their parents. NOTHING could be further from the truth. (That dubious distinction should be reserved for the "51 Exercises" of Brahms. I'm sure that even their composer would unhesitatingly admit that, whatever their undeniable technical utility and occasional harmonic interest, that collection of chromatic pattern drills has all the purely musical attractions of the proverbial dessication of paint.) On the present CD, about the closest thing to what Debussy parodied in "Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum" are tracks 16 and 17, where Clementi turns a routine five-finger pattern into an exhilarating coaster ride for the right and left hands respectively.

Who would have suspected that Clementi, the grand old man of the "classical" piano sonata, still had so many technical tricks up his sleeve and yet so much of the "romantic" in him? Who would have thought that he still had so many forward-looking ideas in terms of MODERN piano writing, coupled with a harmonic audacity that, at times, leaps forty years into the future? In the caressingly lyrical track 14, chromatic passing tones and suspensions generate passing minor-major seventh chords that momentarily suggest Mahler! (This is all the more amazing when one reads the composer's note in the score that this is a two-hand transcription of the slow movement from his Duetto Op.14 No.1--a piece composed years earlier.) Clementi's doubled intervals are much more in evidence in "Gradus" than even in the sonatas, and the textures often take on a Brahmsian thickness and a corresponding richness. There are experiments in pervasive trills for both hands, inventive figuration (looking forward to the early romantics), and measured tremolos. No.24, in F-sharp minor, is especially startling--this astounding piece, with its troubled chromaticism and a melody embedded in gusty arpeggios, looks forward to Chopin's Prelude in the same key. Those who suspect this is partisan hyperbole on the part of an enthusiast should listen to the samples.

Further, who suspected that the "dry" leaves of "Gradus" contain so much of purely musical beauty and interest? It is true that some of these pieces are pervaded by a single motif--that is the nature of "etudes"--but even in these pieces the musical discourse is enlivened by compelling, interesting harmonic progressions and additional material, rather than the pattern being relentlessly repeated a semitone higher (in the boring, if technically salubrious, manner of Hanon).

Lest I forget to mention the performer, if this music were entrusted to a lesser artist than Alessandro Marangoni it would not make nearly so great an impact. This is playing of passion, but supported by a technique that knows no fears of Clementi's demands--Marangoni's boots are securely planted on Clementi's Mount Parnassus, and his playing comes to us from there. At present, AMAZON advertises two other competing complete "Gradus" sets. I can't vouch for their quality, but they would have to be truly spectacular to beat Marangoni. It is interesting that this first CD of a series of four comes hard on the heels of the completion of Howard Shelley's revelatory traversal of the piano sonatas. Marangoni's "Gradus" will certainly be worthy to stand beside that superb series if the rest of "Gradus" contains similar revelations--I'm eagerly anticipating the remaining three discs.

Jed Distler, October 2010

Those that claim Muzio Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum to be little more than a collection of 100 boring, pedagogical exercises simply do not know the work. True, it contains technically-oriented pieces, but even these contain plenty of charm and musical interest. Take No. 16’s rapid five-finger exercise patterns, for example, and notice how they come alive surrounded by Clementi’s surprising and witty harmonic underpinnings. Or sample the graceful, lyrical No. 8’s left-hand countermelodies sneaking out of their accompanimental context. If you like fugues, try No. 13, with its unusual yet rather haunting high-register work and limpid lyricism.

Too bad about Naxos’ distant, murky sonics, for Alessandro Marangoni plays naturally and beautifully. Comparing Marangoni alongside the Arts label’s complete Gradus ad Parnassum cycle shared by 10 pianists, his brisk, virtuosic, and even aggressive treatments of bravura selections such as Nos. 1, 3, and 7 leave Andrea Bacchetti’s slower, fussier interpretations at the starting gate, while Nos. 11 through 20 more than hold their own alongside Bruno Canino’s clear if slightly dry performances. Let’s hope better engineering is in store for future volumes.

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