Before each half of the recital Peter Donohoe had to fortify himself with two spoons of cough medicine, a throat sweet and a double dose of lemon and paracetamol. I owe this information to the artist’s own tweet. From the quality of the playing one would never have guessed that he was under the weather. He chose a demanding programme for this fundraising concert to endow the Peter Donohoe Prize for piano students: both the first and second books of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) – devoted to his travels in Switzerland and Italy – plus the second book’s three supplements, musical snapshots of Venice and Naples.
A musical peak from each set towered above the rest. I have no idea what the Valèe d’Obermmann is like but Liszt makes it sound magnificent. In Donohoe’s hands it became a place of foreboding and menace, with chasms suddenly opening at one’s feet like one of John Martin’s apocalyptic landscapes.
Some might have thought Donohoe’s interpretation too dark and portentous but I found it utterly convincing – and the Dante Sonata raged and whirled demonically. Occasionally passages in some lighter pieces lacked a little charm – but Donohoe took Le mal du pays and made the homesickness of the title into archetypal romantic yearning (sehnsucht) – the opening notes sounded incredibly bleak and desolate hinting at Liszt’s later experimental style. Let’s not forget Liszt the virtuoso and showman, Donohoe didn’t and had all the necessary chutzpah to bring off the madcap Tarantella.