Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Ferrucio Busoni: Elegies (Chandos)

British pianist Peter Donohoe’s recital is a perfect pick-me-up for Covid gloom


Gustav Mahler, who disliked flashy soloists, used to say that his mood picked up if he saw Busoni’s name on the programme. The Italian-Austrian, half-Jewish piano virtuoso and ambitious opera composer was a voracious intellectual and bibliomane who could talk philosophy all night long, studding his conversation (like his music) with jokes. Mahler liked him so much that he conducted the premiere of his orchestral Berceuse in New York in the last concert he ever gave. 

It works, inasmuch as the closing pages pretty depressive

This recital by the British pianist Peter Donohoe is a perfect pick-me-up for Covid gloom. Starting with the Bach-Busoni Toccata in C major a favourite with Horowitz and other Golden Agers it moves into seven quirky Elegies which include (wait for it) King Henry VIII’s Greensleves among other fragments of Busoni’s operatic version of Turandot.

His Sonatina super Carmen is well known but nonetheless super: a frilly romp through the main themes of Bizet opera with some admonitory fingerwork from Busoni to douse the raging libido. It works, inasmuch as the closing pages are pretty depressive.

Donohoe closes with another Bach-Busoni Toccata to restore the high-minded tone. His playing is always a pleasure, not least for his capacity to make a modern Steinway sound like anything but. On first hearing, I thought mid-century Bösendorfer, on second perhaps a Fazzoli. It takes a truly original pianist to transcend the limitations of these post-industrial behemoths. 

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover