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Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov: Peter Donohoe (piano), QEH, 23.3.2006 (CC)



Given Peter Donohoe's Moscow success it was perhaps not too much of a surprise to hear him in the Russian repertoire. The current Shostakovich series at the South Bank means that concert-goers had a rare opportunity to hear both Shostakovich piano sonatas in one concert, surrounded by perhaps more approachable offerings from two of the composer's fellow countrymen.

Tchaikovsky's Dumka (a folk ballad) was certainly indicative of one thing – Donohoe is not used to playing quietly. Obviously in Moscow the trick is to make sure one is heard in the Gods of the huge hall there, but the QEH is an altogether different bowl of borscht. While he could use a light touch, Donohoe played nothing below mezzo-forte – more, the work lacked the sparkling exuberance that lies at the heart of the more extrovert sections. Quite a while ago now, I know, but Lang Lang in 2001 at the Wigmore was a force to be reckoned with (he is less so now, alas) and Donohoe could not really compete.

The next shock was that Donohoe used music for the Shostakovich Second Sonata (which was the first we heard). Right-hand definition was frequently lost and, if technically this was undeniably impressive, emotionally there were wide misses. Ecstasy was conspicuous by its absence (this is after all a work of extremes) and ultimately Donohoe made it sound as if this was an orchestral reduction of something – and not a finished reduction at that. The Largo meandered (it tends to anyway, but Donohoe sounding as if he was lost did not help). The finale was the best movement, with a sense of space to its Passacaglia, revealing a real breadth of thought. Ultimately, though, it is better to experience Gilels at home (his 1965 recording is wonderful, RCA Red Seal High Performance 09026 63587-2).

The First Sonata, Op. 12 was again rendered with dots present. In a sense the extremes this work presents suited Donohoe to the ground. With a definitely martellato opening, this representation of the anarchic side of Shostakovich made the diminuendo when it came a real relief. This score must be so satisfying to play (Donohoe has great octave glisses, too), while the patches of Soviet Impressionism are quite simply bizarre.

Some Rachmaninov to complete – the (in)famous Op. 3/2 (C sharp minor) plus the first five of the Op. 23 set of Preludes. Mostly this was better, but 'better' is after all a comparative. The famous B flat Prelude (Op. 23/2) was too careful, though, his left-hand staccato in the D minor could laugh more and No. 4 (D major) was too starched to be a Song without Words. The G minor was fairly exciting, but splattered.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have no idea if Donohoe offered any encores.



Colin Clarke





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