Sunday’s penultimate instalment of Peter Donohoe’s complete Beethoven piano sonata cycle saw this profoundly thoughtful musician reaching the very peak of this pianistic Everest.
This Sunday’s forthcoming conclusion to the enterprise will bring an exploration of the final three works on this heroically-attained plateau.
The summit which is the huge Hammerklavier Sonata was approached via the tiny but emotionally wide-ranging E minor Sonata Op. 90, Donohoe improvisatory in the fragmentary first movement, beautifully articulate in the lyrical finale, hands so judiciously balanced in the equal partnership Beethoven gives them.
A similarly fantasia-like opening to the A major Sonata Op. 101 was followed by Donohoe’s almost boogie-woogie approach to the no-nonsense quick march, and the interesting unearthing of a polka-like subtext during the rigours of the concluding fugue.
And this capacity that Donohoe has to mine all kinds of subtleties emerging with stunning inevitability out of his technical brilliance made for a Hammerklavier which was constantly stimulating.
He used resonance and silence to meld the vast paragraphs together, thunderous power to convey Beethoven’s sheer determined cussedness, and an awesome amount of intellectual stamina to match the sheer physicality of this relentless masterpiece.
Sometimes Donohoe’s facility was self-defeating: the mighty concluding fugue was given at whirlwind speed – how exhilarating the trills roaring in the bass sounded – but a slightly slower tempo would have allowed a greater appreciation of its ideas.
Donohoe needed three encores to bring himself, and us, back down to earth.
Paradoxical, given that he and Beethoven have now taken us to the cosmos.
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