Peter Donohoe at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire by Christopher Morley
Under the right hands, even the most glitzy of state-of-the-art grand pianos can sound appropriate for keyboard music of past centuries, and this is certainly the case with Peter Donohoe's ongoing cycle of the complete Mozart piano sonatas.
His instrument is a bright-toned Bechstein, clean and crisp, its bass notes assertive without booming (and how well Donohoe uses them to underpin Mozart's searching harmonies), perfectly captured by the RBC's concert-hall remarkably responsive acoustic. From my seat (eventually secured after chaos at the teething-troubled box office), though, I could see an irritating light-show when certain areas in the key-action were reflected in the highly-polished underside of the piano-lid.
And to this construction of wood, metal and ivory Donohoe brought a collaboration which breathed constantly with supple phrasing, shaped tempi subtly, and ebbed and flowed with dynamic rises and falls.
These are qualities one listens for in Schubert, but they equally apply to his Austrian predecessor. Donohoe's latest instalment gave us the sonatas K280, 281,282,333 and 570, making us aware, without forcing, of the occasional influences (Scarlatti, Salzburg serenades, among others), dealing with repeats judiciously, and occasionally adding juicy flourishes to cadences.
Pedalling was generous, perfectly-attuned, and we marvelled at Donohoe's impressive feat of mental and muscle-memory. And his finale, the concerto-like K333 B-flat Sonata, was simply brilliant, and made me sad, remembering that once upon a time I was able to play the notes, but never the music which Donohoe revelled in revealing to us.