Peter Donohoe’s tally of complete Beethoven piano sonata cycles already goes into double figures, but the marathon he launched on Sunday afternoon is something special, dedicated to raise funds for bursaries for students at the Conservatoire of which he is a proud and pro-active vice-president.
His plan is to go through all the sonatas chronologically, so he began with the rogue pair of sonatas which make up Opus 49 (Beethoven retrieving them from a long-forgotten drawer as a sop to his desperate publishers). These are pieces upon which so many of us tyro pianists cut our teeth as youngsters, but Donohoe paid them the respect of taking them seriously and playing them with due weight and consideration.
Donohoe’s pianism disdains virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake, so even in the three sonatas of Opus 2, full of cross-hand effects, multiple trills (how they will figure in all of Beethoven’s sonata output, and extending into the string quartets!) and rippling cross-keyboard runs, we remained amazed by his judicious balancing between the hands, his command of dynamic range and his subtle pedalling, rather than any look-at-me circus tricks.
The deliciously liquid finale of the A major Sonata, Op.2.no.2 was particularly memorable in this respect, as was the big, symphonic sound-world of the first movement of the Op.2 no.3 C major Sonata.
And it was a nice touch to play movements from Haydn’s English Sonata as a bonus, Haydn Beethoven’s teacher when the young hothead composed these particular works. But I wish Donohoe had announced it, and I also wish his platform-manner was not quite so brusque and matter of fact. He should let memories of the music disappear into the ether a little.
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