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Review: Skryabin Sonatas by Peter Donohoe at Adrian Boult Hall

Christopher Morley enjoys a once-in-a-lifetime journey through all ten of Skryabin's piano sonatas

John James Concert pianist Peter Donohoe at his home in Solihull.
Concert pianist Peter Donohoe at his home in Solihull

Listeners to Peter Donohoe's recital last night took what will be probably be a once-in-a-lifetime journey as he guided us through all ten of Skryabin's piano sonatas.

And what an amazing three-hour odyssey it was.

One could niggle at the fact the music was not presented chronologically when we could more easily have perceived the move from the composer's neo-Chopinian poetry to a language disturbingly introspective and esoteric.

But, in re-ordering his material into a different sequence, Donohoe not only created revealingly juxtaposed insights but also preserved the well-being of his hands.

This is jaw droppingly virtuosi stuff - the sheer finger-memory involved is awesome.

There are trills in abundance. There is desperate, relentless filigree and the piano's range is exploited sometimes over four staves instead of the usual two.

And Skryabin's intellectual demands exert huge burdens upon the soloist as they explore the inner aspirations of the soul, reaching out towards emotional ecstasy - ironically using colourful verbal instructions much in the manner of his sardonic contemporary Erik Satie.

Donohoe was self-effacingly magisterial in this marathon, displaying absolute commitment to this music which he admits he had avoided until five years ago.

He found wonderful detail in these saturated scores (what an eloquent right thumb!), bringing out surprising contexts (who'd have thought Sonatas 6 and 9 were attempting what Stravinsky's Rite of Spring achieved so brilliantly) and tactfully skating over Skryabin's sometimes clumsy endings.

Quite rightly, Donohoe acknowledged the heroic efforts of his page-turner, whose concentration must have been mind-numbing.

But we could have done without the introductory interview, almost inaudible and making us impatient for the business to start.

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