Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Sonatas Volume 5
Piano Sonata No. 15 in F, K533 (1788)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B flat, K281 (1774-75)
Piano Sonata No. 13 in B flat, K333 (1783)
Peter Donohoe (piano)
rec. 2018, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0648 [62]

Piano Sonata 15 opens with tight blending of contrasts. The basic pulse is running quavers but the end of the first phrase is a minim, waiting to reflect yet also marked staccato, so progression is still required to this Allegro and Peter Donohoe keeps it crisp and busy. When the first theme repeat is transferred to the left hand, the right adds a descant dovetailing the end of its first strain and extends the theme (tr. 1, 0:22), closing on a second reflection of appoggiatura minim paired with crotchet. This repeated, there’s a brief codetta (0:38), played by Donohoe with attractive warmth and sense of nostalgia before a spiky quasi-development of the first theme (0:46). Only then comes a second theme (0:58), like a gambolling offspring, quavers in triplets its careering pulse, ending with a brusquer third reflection of appoggiatura crotchet paired with a crotchet (1:03). As the left hand again echoes the right, the interplay is presented with admirable clarity and exuberance by Donohoe, descending triplets giving way to fanfare-like rising and falling ones (1:28) impelling us to the ‘development’ of this theme (1:32), a calmer, more measured one with centrally a minim reflection (1:48) gracefully spotlit by Donohoe before the cadenza-like fanfares and virtuosity of the exposition close. Now comes the real development (4:42), more rigorous with triplet quavers from the first left-hand entry and quickly again fanfares until the relief of the plainer texture of the recapitulation (5:39). Here, as generally, Donohoe repeats the exposition repeat not the second half.

I compare Mao Fujita recorded in 2021(review) who also omits the second half repeat. There’s a marked difference in Fujita’s approach: an intimate, lounge one, though climaxing when appropriate. Donohoe articulates as in a concert hall. Fujita’s emphasis in the exposition is on fluency, precision and balance, discounting Donohoe’s eagerness. Fujita’s quasi-development is more earnest, a crisis relieved by his more playful, rippling second theme. His interplay between right and left hands is as clear as Donohoe’s, his fanfares lighter, while later in the movement he’s more daring in varying them dynamically. His left-hand is more contrasted in the development against a more playful right. His recap radiates confidence and welcome with appreciably nimble fingerwork. Timing the movement at 7:25, he’s not much pacier than Donohoe’s 7:49, but you feel he’s more so.

The Andante slow movement’s opening theme Donohoe makes rather stately, yet fundamentally serene within its bluesy spicing of chromatic touches, the whole sensitively shaped. Its second strain (tr. 2, 0:59) climaxes in a chain of rising sequences of falling semiquavers, confirming the rightness of Donohoe’s tempo. In the second phase (1:12) the left-hand has the theme’s opening four notes to provoke the right-hand musing, now constantly in semiquavers. These latter the left-hand challenges with dissonant chords (from 1:28) whose bitterness Donohoe clarifies without over emphasis. This is also appropriate because the left-hand now has two entries of arpeggios in semiquavers (1:37) that, dovetailed with the right-hand’s, melt the tension.

The second theme (1:45) transforms that of the first theme’s second phase into more certainty, after some struggle reaching fulfilment (2:11), partly by the arrival of demisemiquaver decoration delivered with great delicacy by Donohoe. In the development (4:55) Donohoe presents a shade more spaciously with clinical clarity the battle of wills between the hands as they exchange in dissonant dovetailing the four-note motto and descents in semiquavers now in triplets. Then they present (5:36) a strenuous dovetailed ascent in sequences, right-hand attaining and emphasising in frozen intensity coloratura E flat, then collapsing to alto low F, whereupon the left-hand adds a subterranean F two octaves lower. After this ascent and chasm, an initial calm recapitulation of the opening theme (6:20), as it continues, finds the right-hand troubled again (6:54) trying to maintain the earlier serenity and while appearing to find some composure (7:18), the left-hand discords return to more disruptive effect (7:34) until rescued (7:42) by consonant arpeggios from left-hand to right as earlier. The highs and lows of the ‘vocal’ compass between the hands have now widened and the cadenza-like codetta (8:36) seems an uneasy parade of posturing. Donohoe leaves us with the poignancy of a search for peace which won’t quite come.

Fujita’s opening theme is smoother, more relaxed yet finely shaped. In the second phase he smooths out the dissonances. His sinewier second theme is his time for greater contrast and yet again, with demisemiquavers as delicate as Donohoe’s. Fujita’s development flashes a gaunt, portentous left-hand which the right joins, adding to the tension and rising sequences to a frozen climax, but this is a distanced perspective in relation to the intrinsic tranquillity Fujita instils throughout this movement where Donohoe sees it as a vision at the end of a present and recurring struggle. Fujita’s recap is soft and gentle, sounding effortless, his coda showing an enviable, mesmeric quality of touch. Timing at 9:25, he’s a shade slower than Donohoe’s 9:07, but with his poise you don’t notice. Again, in both recordings the second half repeat is omitted.

Like most sources, this CD uses the double Kochel number, K533/494 for this sonata, because the rondo finale was originally composed as a stand-alone piece; but in the heading I omit 494 as does William Kindermann in his book on Mozart’s piano works, because 533’s revision transforms it. The original Andante becomes a brighter and heartier Allegretto. Mozart adds extra music beginning with unexpected, stimulating discords (tr. 3, 4:42) and spinning, cadenza-like semiquavers before an outlandish contrapuntal development of the six-note motif (4:59) opening the rondo theme from the depths of the left to heights of the right hand. The original coda then follows (5:36) and postlude (5:47) with both hands in tenebrous bass register. Earlier there are three episodes, the first (1:23) in D minor, like a douche of cold water, impelled with impetuosity through the arpeggiated beginning of its thrice repeated opening phrase, relished by Donohoe; the second (1:55) warmer and mercurial, major mode but harmonically adventurous; the third (2:41) more rigorously formal in F minor, but with an increasingly fluid second strain, allowing the return to the rondo theme and F major to seem more glittering from Donohoe and uninhibited.

Fujita in the opening theme is more intimate, dainty and sweet, gradually blossoming with deft ornamentation. His first episode is a formal shock, but not as stimulating as Donohoe’s. Fujita’s second episode is more animated and dramatic, his third more objective and distanced, while in its second strain he brings out more dramatically the interplay between right and left hand. His opening of the added material makes less initial impact than Donohoe’s but he showcases grandly the development of the six-note motif Fujita beginning f, more effective than Donohoe’s mp, making this development the climactic centre of the peroration as well as giving more attention in the postlude to the unusually low left hand.

From its opening trill the Allegro first movement first masculine theme of Piano Sonata 3 comes from Donohoe with great bustle and brilliance, with flourishing demisemiquavers. However, the lady’s response with a lissom second theme (tr. 4, 0:30) proves to have more sway, the man reduced to left-hand shadowing. The lady then brings a very affectionate third theme to begin the development (2:19) provoking increasingly heated interplay, resolved by a combative fourth theme from the lady (2:57) which also confirms this bright exchange is what both relish to allow a seamless recapitulation.

The slow movement, Andante amoroso, has the couple with a first theme opening in benign parallel thirds and soft two-quaver tag companionably rounding off. It’s important this recurring tag is played with neat decorum and Donohoe gets it just right. The second theme (tr. 5, 0:28) has the lady parading coquettish appoggiaturas before quavers (0:30) jettisoned for flowing semiquavers (0:34). The man attempts to put his foot down in left-hand octaves (0:46) but any ruffled feathers are soon tidied and a brief but passionate accord in octaves ensues (1:06, 1:09). A brief development (2:40) brings new material in familiar style but the man more considerate, so the second theme recap now sounds nostalgic and the earlier passionate accord is more strikingly registered (4:09, 4:12).

The irrepressible Rondo finale has the couple merrily mischievous together, spasmodic loud phrases shared, though the lady alone finishes with two skittish crotchets preceded by semiquaver appoggiaturas. Episode 1 (tr. 6, 0:24) is a boisterous continuation. Episode 2 (1:19), in G minor, is a change of colour but I appreciated more Donohoe’s Allegro niftiness in the interchange of hands though the second strain brings a brainstorm and arpeggio fit, in context suitably not overplayed. Episode 3 (2:45) in B flat again has a brief, unexpected affectionate richness before the shimmering confetti of quaver triplets in both hands. Another surprise is the return of the long second part of Episode 1 (3:31). At the very end lady and gent for the first time share those two appoggiatura-prefaced crotchets, and loudly.

Appoggiaturas are also a driving force in the first movement of Piano Sonata 13, a semiquaver to quaver descending one opening the first theme and coming four times at different pitches. Donohoe gives the Allegro full measure which makes it glittering if a touch abrasive. The second theme (tr. 7, 0:44) starts with the fullest chord heard, effectively sforzando to establish its robustness, but soon followed by gliding quavers also found in the first theme, then two quaver appoggiaturas followed by two semiquaver ones, the latter provoking animated right-hand quavers. The left-hand throughout offers confirming support. The development (4:04) finds Donohoe eager to traverse first the more assertive continuation of the theme, then its trial in F minor (4:19) firmly despatched to usher in the recapitulation and a powerful champion in the returning second theme.

The Andante cantabile slow movement Donohoe sings in exalted fashion, perhaps a mite too formal, but discipline doesn’t negate feeling. Here’s mature acceptance of serenity and shadow, the latter in the central appoggiatura of the opening statement (tr. 8, 0:09), but as swiftly resolved, whereupon sf appoggiaturas (from 0:34) introduce more stress and then visions of happiness in response. The second part (0:53) proves more optimistic as Donohoe negotiates with clarity all the demisemiquaver ornamentation. The development opens with an unexpected discord (4:15), moving into F minor (4:29) and, although soon becalmed, appoggiatura chords (from 5:05) maintain the tension until the resolution of the recap permits the release of streams of demisemiquaver ornaments clear-sightedly celebrated by Donohoe.

The Allegretto grazioso finale (tr. 9) begins softly like a coyer, more animated reconsideration of the first movement, with an opening descent sprightlier yet appoggiaturas gathering in 3 seconds, but come the loud repeat quaver triplets kick in and the first episode veers towards G minor (0:35) in an intense take-up of the energy already generated. The rondo repeat adds a conventional second part (1:23) but the second episode, emphatically G minor (1:35) is startlingly dramatic. A variant of the rondo second part becomes a rich meditation in lower register (1:54) ousted by the party time of frivolous upper register (2:00). The rondo opening returns in baffling minor mode clothing (2:20, 2:26) until the home key recap (2:52) and second part at its most confident punctuated by four thick stomping chords, hugely enjoyed by Donohoe, are capped by triumphant triplet descents in the right hand dovetailed with fanfare style arpeggios in the left (3:30), then a cornucopia of semiquaver runs. By this time, you think this is more like the sonority of a piano concerto, then left-hand octaves supply a classic lead-in to a concerto cadenza (4:15) followed by such a cadenza (4:24), at first polite in recalling the main melodic material before climaxing in hemidemisemiquaver pyrotechnics. The coda returns us to a rondo theme even more pristine than that at the outset, but its animated continuation is more vigorous than ever. This looks to calm for a satisfying close when it’s capped by three thunderous closing chords. A terrific end to a fine disc, Donohoe full of joie de vivre and dazzle.

Michael Greenhalgh

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