Review: Peter Donohoe, at Birmingham Conservatoire
Peter Donohoe’s decision to perform his Beethoven piano sonata cycle in order of composition, rather than in a series of “balanced” programmes, is paying dividends.
The second recital provoked us into rethinking the conventional idea that these works neatly slot into the pigeonhole of “early Beethoven”.
Such provocation is part of Donohoe’s proselytising mission in this sonata cycle.
Sonata No.7 is an early work yet it is second in length only to the mighty Hammerklavier. But its large scale and heroic key – E flat major, the same as the Eroica symphony – are deceptive.
Its thundering opening is mock-heroic and while Beethoven calls for the slow movement to be played with grand expression, it never breaks the confines of almost rococo elegance.
In Donohoe’s hands the three Op.10 sonatas were revealed as being more substantial than merely providing glimpses of the mature Beethoven.
The opening movement of No.1 had the genuine glowering menace of Beethoven’s later C minor works, while No.3’s poignant slow movement seemed to inhabit a musical world close to that of the late string quartets.
Donohoe’s forthright, sometimes impetuous, style perfectly brought out the gruff humour of these sonatas, especially the Haydnesque No.2 with its madcap presto finale.