Piano Sonatas Vol. 4
(Sonatas 1, 5 & 12, K279, 283, 332)
Minuet, K 355
Peter Donohoe Piano
Also Vol. 1 (SOMMCD 0191), 2 (SOMMCD 0198), 3 (SOMMCD 0613)
There is something splendid about Peter Donohoe, known for decades as a fine exponent of the biggest and most rowdy of twentieth century concertos, coming back late in life to Mozart’s sonatas.
It is rather like a major-general taking up embroidery and turning out to be rather good at it. For one thing he shows a well-judged consistency of approach throughout the four volumes of the series so far and a proper understanding that, while Mozart was astoundingly innovative in many of these works, he was not Beethoven.
The recordings were made in the fine new hall of Birmingham Conservatoire in 2018 & 19 on a Bechstein grand, which gives a more compressed but taut sound than a Steinway, just a tad closer to the sound world of a fortepiano without one being over conscious of it. The Bechstein also lets Donohoe’s naturally firm style come over as precise without being aggressive. He is a no-nonsense Mozartian, expressive without pulling the music apart or trying to prefigure Romanticism. There is something about his playing that reminds me of a craftsman taking delight in the inner workings of a well-made clock. In the best sense, it is entirely masculine.
The obvious comparison among Donohoe’s contemporaries is with Christian Blackshaw’s set made at and released by the Wigmore Hall. Blackshaw’s playing has, for me, greater depth overall. He finds an intense concentration which harks back to an earlier generation of players like Schnabel and Kempf. This does not mean that Donohoe is in any way superficial. In many ways I suspect he is closer in approach to the 18th century manner. He presents the music with commendable lack of interference.
One of the good things about his set is that he intersperses the sonatas with single movements that Mozart either did not bother to assemble into longer works or left as single pieces of the sort that became common (and would have fancier names) in later era. Some of these, like the Adagio, K540, in Vol. 3, are important in their own right and Donohoe does us a favour by lifting them out of the concert encore category.
There are still seven sonatas to go out of the extent eighteen (another two discs worth). When the cycle is complete it should be high in the pile. There will be more to write then.