Magazine article Gramophone

An Explosion of Virtuosity: Amanda Holloway Talks to Peter Donohoe about Prokofiev's Piano Sonatas

Magazine article Gramophone

An Explosion of Virtuosity: Amanda Holloway Talks to Peter Donohoe about Prokofiev's Piano Sonatas

Article excerpt

Peter Donohoe is loath to be pigeonholed, but his life is inextricably linked to the music of Prokofiev. It was with the First Piano Sonata, among other works, that he gained an ARCM diploma at the age of 17; Sonata No 6was part of his winning programme at the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and his 1991 recording for EMI of Sonatas Nos 6-8 remains a benchmark.

On a personal level, Donohoe has always been fascinated by the culture of the Soviet Union and the composers working within that system. 'My father inspired me to take an interest in the Cold War and the conflict between the East and the West. My own personality, at least when I was younger, was in tune with personalities such as Prokofiev and Stravinsky.' He tells me that he was born exactly two months after the funerals of both Stalin and Prokofiev, and when he performs in the former Soviet Union, people ask him: 'Mr Donohoe, which are you--Stalin or Prokofiev?' You can guess his reply.

Donohoe believes that these sonatas form one of the greatest piano solo cycles in the repertoire. 'Prokofiev was creating these major works throughout his career--all of them are major and some are still underrated. I am delighted to be recording the complete cycle at last.'

He has brought along his Boosey & Hawkes edition of the nine sonatas, published in 1985 with an introduction by Donohoe himself. 'In the 1980s I was already heavily involved in playing this music. Since then I've changed my mind about these pieces, as you'll see from my notes for the new recordings.' We turn to the delightful First Sonata, written when Prokofiev was a student. 'It's very romantic and tonal; you could easily mistake it for Glazunov or Rimsky-Korsakov. It's full of melodies like this, the first theme--[he sings it quietly to the hotel coffee shop]--it's very nice to listen too, not at all acerbic.'

How does Donohoe give sufficient gravitas to a student work that is also the opening statement of the whole cycle? 'You play it for what it is. When something displays its slight naivety--a theme that's nine chords with no rhythmic variation to it at all--one's natural inclination is to play with rubato. Even though people think you mustn't do rubato because it's Prokofiev, the music demands it.

'In the development there is one passage that could actually be Tchaikovsky. It's florid piano-writing but the overall effect is harmonic: typical Russian Romantic use of sequences, where you simply shift the pattern and repeat it with different harmonies. It's the shifts that make it intense and give the music its sense of direction, exactly as in Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. …

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