Roscoe and Donohoe review

AMAZING TWO-PIANO EMPATHY

MARTIN ROSCOE AND PETER DONOHOE
Barber Institute, University of Birmingham *****
Coming as they do as the last-heard appendage to the advertised programme, encores obviously stick in the memory, which is why I tend not to like them. But the encore to this remarkable two-piano recital in the Birmingham International Piano Festival from Martin Roscoe and Peter Donohoe was something very special indeed, and I had no objection to its haunting me all the way home and indeed still as I write.
This was Ravel's brilliant arrangement of Fetes, the second of Debussy's Nocturnes, given with a fleet dexterity, ear for sonority and balance, and a wonderful sense of natural empathy shared by these two of this country's senior pianists who have known and worked with each other for so long.
Both are, of course, master soloists in their own right, but when they come together, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and affection, the result is captivating.
Their programme was a generous one, beginning with a busy Stravinsky Concerto for Two Pianos, rhythmically incisive, wide-ranging in touch and weight.
Total contrast came with Debussy's languorous Prelude a l'Apres-midi d'un Faune, where we were persuaded to abandon all memories of its orchestral colours and instead allow ourselves in this mesmeric and committed reading to be seduced by the interplay of textures and to revel in detail and articulation not usually heard.
Mozart's D major Sonata for Two Pianos was exhilarating in its interplay of lines, its statements, decorations and responses, and a breathtaking synchronicity of passage-work.
The deft tongue-in-cheek wit of Saint-Saens' Variations on a Theme of Beethoven was fluently delivered before the programme proper ended with Rachmaninov's (I prefer this more elegant transliteration of the original Cyrillic version of his name rather than the coarser-looking one favoured by some pedants) Suite no.2.
This was an account always moving forward whilst always, too, making room for the composer's wistful musings along the way. So much of the work anticipates the Second Symphony, not least in the finale's finger-twisting tarantella, and these two gentlemen encompassed all its demands -- "heroically" isn't good enough the word -- with understated panache.
And then came the Ravel encore, which is in my head still, an encore which for once I welcome.
Christopher Morley

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