STRAVINSKY Music for Solo Piano and Piano & Orchestra
Peter Donohoe’s rapturous reception at the 1982 Moscow Competition (see his remarkable blog account) was sparked not least by his account of the Three Movements from Petrushka, which also featured on one of the first studio recordings for EMI soon thereafter. Those who, like myself, had known his playing since his student days, were not entirely surprised. He had seemingly always been able to swallow the toughest pieces in the repertoire whole, bringing to them a compelling rhythmic energy and, as often as not, an ability to shift into turbo-drive at points where others were struggling. Those qualities remain undimmed, and there could scarcely be a better showcase for them than Stravinsky’s solo and concertante works, especially given an additional, if less obvious, temperamental affinity at the level of iconoclastic glee.
The new Petrushka Movements have all the dash and drive we have come to expect, notwithstanding one or two unexpected compromises (such as a little extra space for the glissando near the beginning of the ‘Danse russe’). Like others before him, though less conspicuously than, say, Gilels, Donohoe allows himself some interventions in the transcription. He reinstates the timpani tattoos linking the three movements, and before the reprise in the ‘Shrovetide Fair’ he gives us the brief ‘Peasant with Bear’ episode and an evocative transition out of it, derived from the orchestral original, which actually makes Stravinsky’s transcription seem slightly lame at this point.
The early F sharp minor Piano Sonata isn’t quite Donohoe’s thing; but, given its curious attempt to blend academic solidity and neo-Romantic warmth, it wasn’t really Stravinsky’s either; whereas the sly subversiveness of the echt neoclassical 1924 Sonata has composer and pianist both in their element. For the Serenade and the Piano-Rag-Music there are recordings by Stravinsky himself, both made in Paris early in July 1934. In both pieces Donohoe takes slightly more time, in the interests of greater clarity and point. On the other hand, even behind the acoustic vagueness it’s possible to detect a degree more unrestrained grandeur from the composer in the Serenade’s opening ‘Hymn’, where Donohoe is perhaps at excessive pains to note the forte rather than fortissimo marking: the cue for a reading that is, to me at least, surprisingly mellow. In the Tango Donohoe is deliciously dry and authentically inscrutable; for some reason he omits eight bars from the repeat of the central section. Those looking for the complete solo works might regret the absence of the composer’s transcriptions of Ragtime and the Circus-Polka. But there is so much else to feast on here that it would seem churlish to complain.
The concertante works were recorded in 1995 99 but more than merit their resuscitation. All are superbly crisp and clean, and David Atherton has his Hong Kong orchestra on its toes. Both the Concerto and the Capriccio demonstrate Donohoe’s extraordinary ability to inject extra energy just when interest might be in danger of flagging, and the all-round precision in the late Movements gives this impenetrable music every chance to speak.
There is a curious glitch in the Piano-Rag-Music which sounds for all the world like two takes superimposed (around 1'38" 1'41"); or perhaps it’s a trick of reverberation from a single take, because I noticed something similar in the first movement of the Serenade, from around 2'38". But these are isolated moments; otherwise the recording quality is close yet, to my ears, never constricted.