Immediately after making a strong impact on the Birmingham International Piano Academy a few days ago, Peter Donohoe jumped into his car to make the long but rewarding journey to Fishguard on the Pembrokeshire coast.
The Solihull-based pianist is joint artistic director of the 45th Fishguard Festival, having previously been artistic consultant, and has thrown himself life and soul into the role.
He had begun by conducting members of the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera in an attractive, listener-friendly programme of Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel (this extravagant score expertly reduced down for a mere quintet), Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, and concluding with the Eight Seasons.
Eight Seasons? Yes indeed: the ubiquitous set by Vivaldi interleaved by the haunting set by the great Argentinian tango composer Astor Piazzolla, the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.
This concert was given in the comfortable, airy purpose-built recital hall built as an adjunct to Neuadd y Dderwen, a gracious country house at the end of a long shrub-lined drive in Rhosygilwen, Cilgerran.
Next up in Peter Donohoe’s box of tricks was his role as accompanist, partnering with soprano Elizabeth Watts in songs by Wolf, Schubert, Richard Strauss, Rachmaninov and Britten. This was held in St Peter’s Church in Goodwick, just up the road from the Fishguard/Rosslare ferry terminal, and on the way up to the breathtaking vantage-point of Strumble Head, with its sea-horse waves, gulls keening on the wind, heather and gorse mixed beside the gentle paths, and the stunning lighthouse.
One day later Peter was presiding over a masterclass for four aspiring young pianists, in yet another venue, the Ysgol Bro Gwaun. Like Presteigne somewhat closer to home, Fishguard is an itinerant festival, scattering its events among venues within and surrounding the main centre.
There were no solo recitals from Peter this year. Instead he performed in two concerts of the highest-quality chamber-music.
On Sunday he returned to Rhosygilwen to be joined by violinist Alissa Margulis and the Swedish cellist Per Nystrom.
“I was working with Per in Sweden – Alyssa was also there – and one evening in a bar somewhere or other we just talked about working together, and look, it’s happened,” explained Peter.
The sonatas for each soloist couldn’t have been more varied. Those by Debussy are unique combinations of feyness and wit, and the performers captured the essence beautifully. Each was particularly adept at highlighting the significance of tonal shifts as tiny landmark motifs made their reappearance.
And there were two “biggies”.
The greatest violin sonata, that by Cesar Franck, was given with a sensitive awareness to its gradual accumulation of tension and material, leading to a gorgeous release, Margulis’ tone eloquent at whatever level of volume and allied to bowing which phrased so compellingly.
Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata, another candidate for greatness within the genre, was delivered with passion and inward sublimity by Nystrom, he and Donohoe (for whom this is virtually a concerto) aware of all the symphonic templates which lie behind its structure and textures.
Peter was an enthusiastic, sensitive and reassuring guru in all these readings.
These three came together next afternoon in St Peter’s for two great piano trios, those by Ravel and Tchaikovsky.
Introducing the Ravel, Peter told us how the work was composed during the horrors of the First World War, and declared “I’d like to dedicate this performance to all of those who are suffering through what is going on in the Middle East”.
The work received a reading well alert to its sad remembrance of a lost world of gentleness, mixed with its slightly unconvincing look forward into a better world. And Peter’s pianism sometimes brought Ravel’s contemporary Prokofiev to mind.
Like the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata, Tchaikovsky’s A minor Piano Trio is structured upon a background of symphonic templates in its long, searching first movement, and the players’ grasp and concentration was impressive.
The second, final movement is a sequence of variations, many-sided, from a musical box to a gentle waltz which demanded, and received, empathetic rubato from its performers. The concluding lengthy fantasia built huge outbursts before fading away into a silence which Peter held so well from the piano before applause erupted.
His energy is boundless. Pre-and post-recitals, and even during the intervals, he was up and down the aisles, chatting to the audience and organising refreshments for the soloists.
“I’m already planning next year,” he told me. “2015 is a year with lots of anniversaries, centenaries, even, and I’ve got various
And he tapped a score of music by a certain composer, gave me a conspiratorial glance, and left it at that.