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Olli Mustonen Plays Prokofiev Piano Concertos with Startling Imagination

10 May 2017

Olli Mustonen, Hannu Lintu, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sergei Prokofiev, Ondine, 2xHD - Ondine, Early 20th

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By no stretch of the imagination could Olli Mustonen be called an ordinary pianist. A vivid musician of startling imagination, and also a fine composer, he sees music from within. Moreover, he plays the instrument as if the keys are on fire – or at least extremely hot, his touch so swift and light that it can sound pointillist at times, ultra-clear and often dazzling. On the valuable occasions when he plays legato rather than staccato, the sound is soft yet ringing, still seeming to speak to the back row of the audience.

This approach can occasionally verge on the mannered, but the sense of irony that goes with it does work well in the Prokofiev piano concertos. Often, notably in the first movement of No. 3 and the billowing, glamour-laden conclusion of No.1, Mustonen’s touch bristles and shimmers amid Prokofiev’s star-spangled textures. Every run has a clarity and perfectionism about it – his precision can feel almost uncanny at times. That’s not to say Mustonen is robotic; the flexibility of his clever rubato in the second theme of the Piano Concerto No.1 puts paid to any such idea.

Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 1, 3 & 4

The Piano Concerto No. 4 is a relative rarity compared to the countless performances and recordings of the other two. Mustonen and Lintu make a graceful case for it, with the evenness and brightness of the pianist’s touch paying dividends. The music emerges as sardonic and biting, but often delicate, with a certain sensuality buried in the sonority.

Lintu’s accompanying is sensitive and precise, and if the piano is perhaps miked a bit closely, it remains securely woven into the close-knit fabric. Tempi seem sometimes on the deliberate side, with so much attention paid to detail that occasionally longer line is sacrificed and the music, even when ploughing rhythmically ahead, can start to feel very slightly bogged down (Mustonen’s solo passages in No.1 can be a case in point).

Recorded sound is excellent: luminous and clear, warm but very bright – which suits the music spot-on.

Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen’s music journalism has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is the author of a number of novels (most recently Ghost Variations, published in 2016), biographies and plays. Current projects include an opera libretto for composer Roxanna Panufnik (for Garsington Opera 2017). Her popular blog JDCMB has run since 2004.

Performance: four stars
Sound: five stars

Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 1, 3 and 4
Olli Mustonen (piano), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu 
Ondine ODE12442

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