Peter Donohoe Plays Bach At The Red Hedgehog

The Well-Tempered Clavier – Book I [24 Preludes and Fugues], BWV846-69

Peter Donohoe (piano)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 10 February, 2007
Venue: The Red Hedgehog, Highgate, London N6

The Red Hedgehog is a café by day and an intimate chamber-music venue by night. It allows the listener to get close to both the music and the performer. At this recital, Peter Donohoe was an excellent host (he gave two brief speeches sharing his insights to the music) as well as a tremendous interpreter – the packed audience certainly appreciated him.

For Donohoe the exploration of Bach’s music is clearly a moving and an emotional one. Having begun his career with contemporary music under the tutelage of Olivier Messiaen in Paris Donohoe is, in his own words, “working backwards while going forwards”. Despite being a man of no religious convictions he spoke very movingly about the religious qualities he believes Bach’s music possesses and how playing this music has been some of the great challenges of his career. He explained in mathematical terms how keyboard instruments are constructed and the importance to the music of the ‘key’ in which it is written.

Of the First Book of the ‘48’ Preludes and Fugues Donohoe played the first twelve in groups of four, the groups separated by a thirty-second break. There then was a five-minute ‘interval’ followed by the next three pairs, then the next five (because “they go together”) and, finally, the last four. He had wanted to play them without the ‘interval’, which would indeed have been preferable as there seemed to be a distinct loss of concentration among the audience that had, up until that point, been well maintained. This was a shame because the A flat Prelude and Fugue (Number 13) offers a chance to plumb great depths of feeling and despair.

Overall, tempo choices seemed well chosen and fitted the mood suggested by the music’s key. For example, there was a sense of despair from the Fugue in D sharp minor which was relieved by the following Prelude in E. Similar feelings to the D sharp minor Fugue returned in the Fugue in F minor. Happier emotions were conjured up by the joyous Prelude in D. The much-longer and B minor Prelude and Fugue, the final example of Book I offered some highly controlled and concentrated playing giving a picture of the place where one can await one’s fate to the divine.

In other surroundings this could have been a quasi-religious experience but it was a mark of Donohoe’s success that he conjured up so wide a range of emotions. The Red Hedgehog is no doubt looking forward to Donohoe’s promised return with Book II.

  • The Red Hedgehog
  • The Red Hedgehog is situated at 255-257 Archway Road, Highgate, London, N6 5BS
  • Box Office: 020 8348 5050

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