Peter Donohoe gives ‘a mesmerising performance’ of Shostakovich’s Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2 and Piano Sonatas Nos 1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Signum Records
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Piano Sonatas Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Peter Donohoe (piano); Orchestra of the Swan/David Curtis
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 493

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Peter Donohoe enters a crowded field when it comes to fine recordings of Shostakovich’s piano concertos. Among recent releases, Alexander Melnikov (Harmonia Mundi) and Boris Giltburg (Naxos) are particularly adept at projecting the music’s troubling emotional ambiguity, which in the First Concerto seems to veer between manic high-jinks in the fast movements and suffocating loneliness in the Lento. In comparison, Donohoe is less histrionic, presenting a sober, almost neo-classical account of the work, delivered with crystal-clear articulation. His interpretation of the Second Concerto is more sharply-etched, probing both disturbing uncertainties that lie beneath the music’s surface jollity in the outer movements and an ineffable sense of loss in the refreshingly unsentimental approach to the central Andante. David Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan offer reasonably alert support, but interaction between soloist and conductor is nowhere near as exciting as on the Harmonia Mundi and Naxos discs. 

One of the CD’s main values, however, lies in the opportunity to hear the concertos alongside the two piano sonatas. All the works are helpfully placed here in chronological order of composition, thereby emphasising that the distinctiveness of Shostakovich’s piano writing remained largely intact despite his changing musical language and the unstable political background. Donohoe delivers a highly charged and compelling account of the angry modernist First Sonata. But it’s the weighty and complex Second that emerges as the true masterpiece in a mesmerising performance that makes one wonder why it doesn’t feature far more often in recital programmes. 

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Erik Levi