Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Clementi: Gradus Ad Parnassum Vol. 4 - Delightful

Clementi: Gradus ad Parnassum, Vol. 4
Exercises Nos. 66-100
Alessandro Marangoni, piano

Pianist Alessandro Marangoni completes his survey of Muzio Clementi's Gradus ad Parnassum with this release. Composed over several years, this three-volume collection of keyboard exercises has become one of the standard teaching tools for pianists. But these works aren't just a series of dull and difficult finger exercises.

True, within each of the short pieces in this collection a pattern of notes will occur over and over, sometimes obsessively. But Clementi underpins those patterns with interesting  and supple harmonies that provides forward motion and musical organization.

Most of the 34 exercises in this volume were grouped by Clementi into suites. Each suite, taken as a whole, aesthetically makes sense. Each suite has collection of contrasting movements. A mid-tempo piece is followed by an up-tempo one. A simple, lyrical movement is followed by a complex fugue, and so on. Although the individual pieces are enjoyable enough to listen to, the suites place the movements in context and provide deeper musical meaning to the whole.

The contrapuntal pieces were the ones I found most interesting -- Clementi had a facility for writing canons and fugues. The fugues don't sound like Bach warmed over. Just as with the counterpoint of Mozart and Haydn, these movements have a strong melodic flavor to them. These pieces work as music and not just intellectual (or fingering) exercises.

Marangoni plays with alacrity and a light touch, making these difficult exercises sound effortless. And more importantly, he makes them sound musical.

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