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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures from an Exhibition (1874) [33:01]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Miroirs (1904-1905) [27:43]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Cantéyodjayâ (1949) [12:21]
Peter Donohoe (piano)
rec. 2018, Cedars Hall, Wells Cathedral School, Somerset, UK
Reviewed as a 24/96 download from hyperion-records.co.uk
Pdf booklet included
SIGNUM RECORDS SIGCD566 [73:18]

I first encountered pianist Peter Donohoe in the Tchaikovsky concertos, recorded with Rudolf Barshai and the Bournemouth Symphony in 1987/88; those remain very competitive (EMI-Warner). However, it was his 1988 Proms account of the Busoni concerto, with the BBCSO under Sir Mark Elder, that really took my breath away (EMI-Warner). Indeed, in my recent review of the Kirill Gerstein/Sakari Oramo/Boston Symphony recording of that piece, I was pleased to confirm Donohoe’s barnstorming version is still out in front. Fast forward to 2013, and I much admired his Prokofiev sonatas, the first tranche of which which I made a Recording of the Month (Somm). Alas, his most recent album, the Shostakovich concertos with David Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan, was a major disappointment (Signum). Then again, that was also due to lacklustre accompaniment and one rather dubious venue.

Donohoe can certainly hold his own in Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, but he faces formidable competition in Mussorgsky. Most of the pianists I’ve heard treat Pictures like a scintillating showpiece, its vibrant colours and varied subjects a gift to exhibitionists of another sort. From the outset, though, it’s clear that Donohoe is not of their ilk, preferring instead to major in clarity and detail. Mike Hatch and James Waterhouse’s bright, clear recording is an asset in that respect, for it helps to bring the score’s inner workings into sharp relief. Happily, it’s forensic but not fatiguing, and there’s enough here to please those jaded by the work’s ubiquity. Most important, Donohoe treats Pictures like the solo piece it is, and doesn’t attempt to mimic the weight and scale of the subsequent orchestrations. Ravel’s in particular. That pays dividends in Mussorgsky’s more crystalline passages, but anyone expecting added thrill/heft in The Great Gate at Kiev may feel a tad underwhelmed.

Not a top-notch Pictures, but not a dud, either. In fact, one might want to play Miroirs first, if only to underline just how Ravelian Donohoe makes the Mussorgsky sound. A neat reversal, perhaps, given the Frenchman’s famous orchestration. One might reasonably expect this pianist to deliver alert, insightful readings of the five pieces that make up Miroirs, yet I found myself yearning for a bit more sparkle here. Again, these are decent performances, but for imagination and a sure sense of style Steven Osborne’s recording, part of a superbly recorded 2-CD set, is hard to beat (Hyperion CDA67731/2). As for Messiaen’s Cantéyodjayâ, based on Hindu rhythms, it needs to be more incisive - more idiomatic - than it is here. Indeed, one need only listen to Håkon Austbø, a specialist in this repertoire, to realise how this finely crafted piece should go (Naxos 8.554090).

Donohoe’s Mussorgsky has its moments, but his Ravel and Messiaen are unremarkable; fair to middling sound.

Dan Morgan



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