Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon ****

Stratford Music Festival was host to something of a groundbreaking coup in Shakespeare’s church last Thursday, when one of the world’s greatest pianists entertained us with composers whose music was new to his already vast repertoire.

Promoted in connection with the Stratford-upon-Avon Music Society, this 50th anniversary recital for the Denne Gilkes Memorial Fund was given by Peter Donohoe. In many ways it was Chopin-derived, but the novelties came with him exploring two of Spain’s greatest composers.

Donohoe began with Busoni’s powerful, arresting Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Donohoe unleashing its torrent of virtuosity but also homing in on a lovely little waltz section with left-hand eloquence. Textures were frequently Rachmaninovian, and indeed the first half of the recital concluded with that composer’s own Variations on a Theme of Chopin (incidentally, the same C minor Prelude).

This began as a Bachian fantasia, but all the Rachmaninov fingerprints gradually emerged, building to a finale where Donohoe delineated so many layers of pianistic activity.

Two tiny, understated gems by Chopin himself were the filling in this doorstep sandwich: the famous “Minute” Waltz in D-flat major, followed by its enharmonic sibling, the Waltz in C-sharp minor, the one wispy and filigree from Donohoe, the other sweetly romanticised.

The novelties came in the second half, beginning with items from Albeniz’ massive “Iberia” collection. Donohoe brought wonderful colour and characterisation to these offerings, encompassing their extremes of virtuosity with clarity and an often guitar-like articulation. The composer never seems to know when to stop, however, which perhaps stirs impatience.

More compact were movements from Granados’ Goyescas, ruminatively Chopinesque in texture (Los requiebros) and strongly rhythmic (El fandango del candil), and rendered by Donohoe with persuasive delicacy.

His encore was another of the Goyescas, the intensely emotional Maiden and the Nightingale, but perhaps more appropriate to send us home would have been Granados’ irresistible Andalucia, with its ear-worm of a middle section to haunt our dreams.

Christopher Morley

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