OPENING with a quartet of Schubert’s wonderfully self-contained impromptus followed by the full scope of his C Minor Sonata, Peter Donohoe treated a packed audience to a feast of the composers variety and depth of the composer’s always rewarding work.
Starting with a march-infused warm-up for left left hand and followed by a similarly exacting work-out for the right, these were joyous pieces full of drive and dexterity, just right for the Saturday night of a weekend offering a rich diet of meaty pieces.
Rewarding and welcome as Schubert’s generous first half airing undoubtedly was, it was the second half and the towering presence of Beethoven which will live long in the memory.
Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata has a reputation built up over the years as being a demanding listen for the audience and a daunting prospect for the pianist about to attempt it. Nice to hear Peter Donohoe’s thoughts beforehand as he broke the task ahead down into distinct, slightly more manageable chunks a little like hearing exactly how a mountaineer is about to begin the task of scaling the Matterhorn.
Undoubtedly the most treacherous passages of the ascent lie in the vast slow movement and in the vertical challenges of the finale, but Beethoven makes sure there’s ground to be covered before we even reach these.
Peter Donohoe’s playing was exemplary throughout. Like the best stage actors he has the ability to play a piece as well known to both himself and the audience as this as if he were encountering it afresh. To continue the mountaineering theme, we are hearing him climb not recite the remembered tale of it.
The profoundly moving slow adagio was simply fabulous, packed with emotion and desperation, it was a bleak, unforgiving wilderness which leaves you in despair but equally drawn to return. The finale was equally stunning though at the other end of the dynamic spectrum. Full of fireworks and technical demands which made you think less about the genius in Beethoven writing it and more about the sheer brilliance of anyone actually being able to play it.
It’s one of the joys of compact festival such as this that we’re allowed close enough to the performer to actually see the music being made, to appreciate the power and the delicacy required almost simultaneously and to observe the concentration and sheer virtuosity which go into being able to master the keys in this way – a mastery which only failed occasionally when the fingers producing such glorious music were required to stab desperately at the iPad which seems to have replaced the manuscript so often these days.