With Sonata and Concerto alternated, yet arranged in chronological order, journeying through this collection gives a fair idea of Shostakovich’s variety of piano music (he was a virtuoso on the instrument) and with Peter Donohoe as a vibrant and perceptive guide.
Thus Piano Sonata No.1 (1926, the composer aged nineteen or twenty) is a modernist assault on the listener, wild music (save for an enigmatic Lento section) that breaks rules and is harmonically unstable, a short (twelve minutes here) but not sweet piece that might be heard – occasionally – to grow out of Scriabin’s most-daring compositions and reflects the young man’s enfant terrible side, maybe determined to upset professors and tutors, yet also possessing fascinating qualities, which Donohoe brings out to coruscating effect. He is also splendid in the multifarious Piano Concerto No.1 (1933), whether sarcastic or madcap (Keystone Cops silent-film music at the close, an occupation Shostakovich literally knew with both hands) via sorrow, and in which Hugh Davies plays brilliantly and with poise, given an equal balance with Donohoe, the Swan strings every bit as distinguished, although a couple more violins would have been welcome to avoid thinness.
The expansive three-movement Piano Sonata No.2 (1943) is far more lucid in its contrapuntal thinking, and can be spare and lonely at times, yet without denuding emotion or edge, and Donohoe gives an eloquent and searching account of it, holding the attention, not least in the solitary central Largo and in conveying the import of the theme-and-variations Finale, clarity and invention (in a Bachian sense) remaining the composer’s watchwords. Following which Piano Concerto No.2 (1957, written for the composer’s son Maxim) makes a complete contrast – light, fun, and a toyshop of delights in the helter-skelter outer movements (Donohoe scintillating in the first’s closing bars), the central one being of heavenly sentiment, if here rather self-consciously adagio when the marking is Andante, if nonetheless a rapturously beautiful Chopinesque nocturne, and with a natty accompaniment the whole time.
Apart from a couple of inconsequential bloopers in the booklet’s listing of Swan personnel – crediting oboe- and horn-players for Concerto No.1 (when none are needed) and omitting a percussionist for its successor (unless timpanist Tim Farmer doubled on side drum) – there is much to admire all-told, and the sound-quality is consistently excellent. Peter Donohoe has also recorded Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues for Signum.