CONCERT REVIEW: International Piano Festival 1997 – Basically Beethoven -PETER DONOHOE 9th July 1997

International Piano Festival 1997 — Basically Beethoven


Wednesday, 9 July 1997
Victoria Concert Hall


WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Sonata in A major, K. 331 (1780-84)
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 “Waldstein” (1803-04)
FREDERIC CHOPIN Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58 (1844)
FRANZ LISZT Venezia e Napoli from “Annees de Pelerinage II” (1840, revised 1859)

OVERALL NOISE RATING: 1 (a quiet audience)

The Noise Rating Index is a partially objective measurement of pager blasts, 9pm and 10pm watch beeps, coughing-during-the-pianissimo-bits and other really inept noises emitted in the concert hall during the music itself.
It is measured on a scale of 0 to 5, in increasing annoyance.

SSO Tickets for Inkpot classical music reviewers have been kindly sponsored by Singapore Symphonia Company.

Isaak Koh

Peter Donohoe This fourth and final concert in this year’s Piano Festival offered the most attractive of programmes, featuring repartoire mainstays from Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin, finishing off with an enticing work by the greatest of piano celebrities, Franz Liszt. Having received highly favourable reactions from friends who attended the first three recitals, I (and most of the audience, I suspect) expected a climatic finale to the series.Peter Donohoe has made many recordings on EMI, collaborating with illuminaries such as Sir Simon Rattle. His CD of Tchaikovsky’s Second and Third Piano Concertos (with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Barshai, EMI CDC7 49940 2, full-price) has won the Gramophone Magazine Award in the Concerto category and received a Penguin Guide Rosette and a recommendation in the BBC Music Magazine’s “Top 1000 CDs Guide.”

The thunderous applause that greeted the pianist’s entrance on stage belied the three-quarter attendance. Donohoe cut a slightly plump figure, with a somewhat reticient demeanour. This initial impression was sustained in his delivery of the opening “Theme and Variations” of the Mozart sonata. Donohoe conveyed the serenity of the movement sincerely, appearing peaceful yet confident. His quicksilver technique and control was fabulously displayed in the faster and more complicated variations, making effective use of the natural boldness of the piano. The first two movements beautifully done, Donohoe proceeded at a brisk pace (more Allegro than Allegretto) with the famous “Turkish Rondo”. Other than a significant flub in the coda flourish, the movement was highly exciting.

While most pianists will turn the “Waldstein” sonata into a showpiece, Donohoe chose a subdued approach instead. He did not thunder his way through the dramatic first movement, but unconventionally emphasised the lyrical aspects. There were frequent instances where a note early here, a bit late there, threatened to tear the structure of the first and third movements apart. The pianist surprised occasionally with sudden pick-ups and slowing-downs in speed, as if he was losing control of the work. The overall impression was that Donohoe was not struggling with the music, but with the keyboard.

The two works after the interval was much better executed following the disappointment of the Beethoven. Chopin’s Third Sonata does not have the instant appeal of the “Waldstein”, but Donohoe made a convincing case of it. He seemed much more comfortable in this work, as if he was more in tune with Chopin than Beethoven. Donohoe was most impressive in the fourth movement, marked Presto ma non tanto, attacking it with gusto and sweeping all before him with the intensity of his playing.

The virtuosity of his technique was again displayed in the Liszt, where he dispatched the stream of running notes in the Gondoliera movement effortlessly. His fingers seemed to float across the surface of the keys throughout the work, weaving silky skeins of sound. Having performed four works of substantial difficulty in one night, Donohoe elicited enthusiastic applause from the audience, obviously impressed by his pianistic skills. Despite the encouragement, Donohoe returned for a single encore, leaving the crowd with Debussy’s enigmatic Pagodes from the Estampes (1903). This selection further affirms Donohoe’s position as a lyrical pianist. Although not the rousing evening that was expected, it was a enjoyable concert.

Peter Donohoe may not have been completely accurate in conveying the spirit of all four works, but there is little to quibble about in technical terms. With fascinating pianists such as Demidenko, Hamelin and Anderszewski in this year’s lineup, one can only look forward to next year’s series. Perhaps the premiere of new works could be incorporated in a “Tradition and Modernism” theme, with the invited performers playing a mix of standard repartory works and new compositions that deserve more exposure.

Isaak Koh is constantly looking for people interested in writing for the Classical Music section. Give him a buzz!

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