South Bank International Piano Series 2003/04 – Peter Donohoe (26 October)

Klavierstücke, Op.118
Sonata in C, Op.53 (Waldstein)
Prélude, aria et final
Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op.39
Berceuse, Op.57
Venezia e Napoli

Peter Donohoe (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 26 October, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

A varied, generous and successful recital to testify Peter Donohoe’s versatility. The heroic paragraphs heralding Brahms’s six pieces immediately demonstrated Donohoe was in fine form – poised, sensitive and communicative – the sublime second Intermezzo cored into with much heart. If one or two fortissimo passages in subsequent movements were a little unfocussed, there was also some magically quiet playing; Donohoe’s unfolding of the trill-encrusted Romance and his winding-down of the final piece were altogether special.

The Beethoven was neither obese nor enervated; this was down-to-earth stealth, a little smudged in places yet with compassion and vitality inexorably fused. The slow movement’s exploratory half-lights were imaginatively sounded. Some unsettling of the finale was countered by extraordinarily graceful playing.

César Franck’s Prélude, aria et final (not to be confused with Franck’s better-known Prélude, choral et fugue) is lovely music, and was here given a rendition of absolute belief by Donohoe who wasn’t tempted to inflate the work. Rather he signalled its French identity (Franck was actually Belgian) through gleaming clarity of texture; he was on a roll in the ’final’ in terms of sustained virtuosity. The Debussy was fluid and fleet, wonderfully done without being stereotypically impressionistic, a term Debussy was suspicious of; one suspects he would have taken great delight in Donohoe’s glittering and vivid reading, one that lacked nothing in ’distance’ and variegation.

The Chopin scherzo was a different matter. Donohoe has long stressed the masculine side of Chopin’s music; he did so here although his alternate loving and snatching rubato in the trio really didn’t square. Donohoe went for broke in the coruscating final bars, just about got away with it, and punched the air on arrival. The Berceuse was given with musical box charm; decorative accumulation naturally encompassed.

Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli is a song and dance appendix to the second (Italian) leg of his Years of Pilgrimage. It’s difficult not to raise a contemptuous smile at some of Liszt’s triteness, melodrama and glittering roulades, yet one feels ungrateful in doing so, for Liszt was a master of the instrument. Donohoe’s musical values were never under threat, allowing Liszt’s invention to be enjoyed rather than swamped by egotistical rampaging.

Liszt’s suggestion of Venice and gondoliers found an aquatic counterpart in the ripples of Debussy’s beautiful first Arabesque, a delightful encore. A long recital, then, but one which never flagged; Donohoe’s freshness of approach and his affinity with the music sustained interest throughout.

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