The problem with Clementi is that there are no standout works. Where most famous composers write a couple of pieces that are gripping enough to be an entry point to their output, the London-based Italian just wrote and wrote more and more sonatas at roughly the same level of invention, leaving the new listener no idea where to start.
Opus 33, published by Longman and Broderip in 1794, is not a bad door-knocker. Clementi employs many of the same devices as Mozart – a seductive melody, a secondary detour and several strong teases before he delivers a resolution. There’s nothing arresting or revolutionary about it, but there’s enough to engage the ear while easing the mind on a hot summer’s night.
Stefan Chaplikov, Bulgarian born, plays a modern piano of unstated provenance at the Yale University recital hall. It’s a bit brittle at the outset but the era quickly adjusts and you can soon see why Clementi was the toast of London in Napoleonic times, earning himself a tomb in Westminster Abbey and a plaque next to my favourite Kensington restaurant.
The Adagio of Opus 33/2 is especially appealing and very, very short, leading us up to the news (which is exactly what we don’t want to hear).