BEETHOVEN may well have changed the direction of musical composition for good, but it was compatriots such as Robert Schumann who enabled 19th century romanticism to really blossom.

Peter Donohoe's decision to open his performance at the Lower Machen Festival with the romantic master's Themes and Variations on the name Abegg, Op.1 was itself a master stroke.

For Schumann's music is first and foremost for the piano, and what better way to start off a performance which was ultimately an expression of the mastery of that instrument.

The three movements of Schumann's Fantasie in C Major, Op.17, with their unpredictable rhythms and incredible texture, offered an emotional roller-coaster of a ride, belied by the pianist's calm, almost relaxed approach.

One of Britain's foremost pianists, Peter Donohoe is used to performing in the world's most famous venues, but he was perfectly at home in the almost cosy, informal surroundings of St Michael's Church, Lower Machen.

In Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 the audience witnessed his ability to move from butterfly-like delicacy to incredible intensity without any show of flamboyance. Such is his stage presence, he just does not need it.

But he brought to Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No.2 in D Minor, Op.14 all the energy and athleticism needed for the abrupt and startling rhythmic variations of the uncompromising, wayward Russian.

Starkly modernist, the Sonata hurtled along.

Donohoe's selection of Rachmaninov Preludes, Op.23, was to have closed the show, but the expansive, rolling crescendoes left the audience wanting more.

And that is what they got.

Schumann's Arabeske was a lovely finale to a totally memorable evening.