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Prokofiev: Piano Sonatas (Nos.1-5)

Peter Donohoe, piano.


This disc is Peter Donohoe’s first installment of a projected cycle of all Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas, and almost immediately one is reminded that he is a pianist capable of phenomenal volume and dexterity. He is in possession of a tremendous technical capacity that has become a hallmark of his pianism: nothing daunts him in these Sonatas. Only very occasionally one can detect some marginally unclear passagework (e.g. an ascending run near the beginning of Sonata no.2), a small issue in an otherwise good recording.

His performance of Op.1 has broad sweep (it’s an unusual work in Prokofiev’s output, being more romantic in style than the other sonatas), yet at times Donohoe could be just a tad warmer and wide-ranging with his sound. I never feel as drawn in as I could by Donohoe’s quieter playing, and a sustained, singing tone is occasionally missing from some passages where it is needed. Of particular note, though, is the transparency he brings to the second movement of Sonata No.4, creating a great sense of space; he’s at his best here, I believe, as he is in the Finale’s rip-roaring conclusion displaying some exhilarating virtuosity.

Donohoe, and with him the SOMM record label, have both taken on some stiff competition, pitting themselves against not only some fine performances from older generation pianists but also those who have already released a complete sets of the Sonatas. With these new recordings I didn’t glean any profound insights in to this music, and for that I can’t mark this release as anything unique among the competition.

Maybe Donohoe could have been a little more probing with his interpretations, more exploratory, given how rich is the music. But there are some arresting performances, and it makes for a recommendable reference disc of Prokofiev’s first five piano sonatas.

Christopher Guild

See also Prokofiev & America (Editor)