CLASSICAL MUSIC Martin Roscoe and Peter Donohoe Wigmore Hall, London
Thursday 10 July 1997
The first half of the programme was French music, and began with Debussy's En blanc et noir, which, if about anything at all, is about the First World War, and Debussy's patriotic feelings. It certainly got a suitably punchy performance, as far as that was compatible with Debussy's fastidious textures and cinematically condensed narrative. Donohoe and Roscoe have been playing together a long time, and their co-ordination was pretty well perfect. They're well matched, too, though Donohoe is marginally the heavier player. A sense of that took some time to emerge, though, because the second piece was Saint-Saens's Variations on a theme of Beethoven, which relies a lot on playful alternation and is characteristically transparent and scintillating.
The rest of the evening was all music that's familiar in orchestral form, as is a lot of piano-duo music. Ravel's nebulously atmospheric La Valse was unfurled with uncommon clarity, Roscoe's dissonant thumps representing the bass drum near the end nicely understated, and this performance probably made more linear sense than Ravel originally imagined. When he hopefully auditioned the piece to Diaghilev, the wily impresario praised it with a faint damn, calling it "a portrait of a ballet", as if it were a shadowy reflection of something precise. But piano versions of orchestral music tend to sound all too digital anyway, subsidiary effects and dissonances articulated all too clearly. So the long opening street-scene of Gershwin's An American in Paris seemed less casually cast off, more concrete than in its orchestral form. Donohoe had the big swooning tune - though, quite rightly, he didn't lose his head over it - and Roscoe got the rollicking homeward-bound number.
Strongly disciplined though the performance was, we needed the leaner, drier character of Copland's Danzn Cubano before plunging back into more Gershwin. This was Percy Grainger's Suite from Porgy and Bess, a medley that is sympathetic to Gershwin's own style. Donohoe scowled at a particularly noisy cougher, but was all smiles at the end. The audience roared, and got a ripping performance of Lutoslawski's Variations on a theme of Paganini as an encore. Adrian Jack
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