Although Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed at the piano, his output for the instrument is not extensive and is recorded infrequently. There are three concertante works, an atypical early sonata, three major compositions (one of which is an arrangement of music from the ballet score Petrushka), and a few trifles. The English pianist Peter Donohoe gives us all these in his two-disc set, omitting piano arrangements that were not done by the composer, and the piano reduction of the Circus Polka.

The romantically over-long Sonata in F Sharp Minor, completed in 1904 while Stravinsky was still a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, bears no resemblance to his later music rhythmically or harmonically. It surges in the manner of Tchaikovsky – even Rachmaninov – but without their memorable themes, and if Stravinsky had continued along this path he would have become a footnote in musical history. But he did not: irregular rhythms creep into the Four Etudes of 1908, and by 1911 and Petrushka his angular, astringent voice was established.

Peter Donohoe surges with the best of them in the early works, and the strong, full sonorities he coaxes from the piano are used elsewhere to great effect. In the technically taxing Three Pieces From Petrushka (written for Rubinstein, who only performed it once), Donohoe’s big sound and liberal pedaling brings the ballet’s bustling fairground setting to life. (By comparison, Yuja Wang sounds simply what she is: a flint-fingered virtuoso.) Donohoe’s hard-edged chords and stark contrasts in the later Sonata and the Serenade underline the music’s links with painting styles of the era.

All the solo music is newly recorded. The concertos with David Atherton and the Hong Kong Philharmonic were recorded back in 1995 and 1999, originally appearing on the defunct GM label. Those vibrant performances still sound great.


Composer: Stravinsky
Composition: Solo and orchestral piano music
Performer: Peter Donohoe p, Hong Kong Philharmonic/David Atherton
Catalogue Number: Somm SOMMCD266-2 (2CD)

Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine