Peter Donohoe Stratford review


Stratford Play House *****
Replacing what had originally been planned pre-pandemic as a full-length recital, Peter Donohoe gave the Stratford Music Festival a lunchtime hour packed with expressive insights and revealing command of piano technique.
The audience was packed as much as it could be in these socially-distanced times, with staggered seating in the raked area and table seating at floor level. With little lamps on the tables and hostess-trolley bar service, there was a decidedly continental, cabaret feel to proceedings, and the atmosphere was lovely. My only complaint is that Stratfordians seem to feel themselves exempt from lockdown rules; so many were maskless, not all of them imbibing.
Piano sound from the Fazioli placed directly under the wooden canopy ceiling was brightly immediate, but how Donohoe manipulated its colours was breathtaking.
All three sonatas were in a minor key, beginning with Mozart's tragic A minor K310. Donohoe's own recording issued in his ongoing Mozart sonata series on the SOMM CD label is engrossing enough, but in live performance it became something very special.
The first movement began almost wistfully instead of angrily, the slow movement was something worldstopping, combining clarity and warmth, and the finale was at times almost a dance of death with trippingly consolatory episodes.
Donohoe brought a different kind of touch, almost Scarlattian, to Haydn's E minor Sonata, with an easy interplay between the hands, moments of quirky humour, and an innocent folkiness to the finale. Incidentally, the programme tells us the composer died before he was born; apologies for pointing out a proof-reading slip. He entered the world in 1732, not 1832.
Beethoven's D minor Sonata was given with all the drama and atmosphere it requires, Donohoe's pedalling an extra resource complementing the composer's keyboard-exploring cross-hand writing. The soloist's delineation of important bass-line notes gave structure to the music's frequent flights of Storm and Stress, and the performance with a real sense of having been on a gripping emotional journey.
After this Schubert's F minor Impromptu provided a cheering encore to a recital which had been given with so much freshness and joy in live performance.
Christopher Morley

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