BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73 – Olli Mustonen, piano/ Tapiola Sinfonietta – Ondine

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73 – Olli Mustonen, piano/ Tapiola Sinfonietta – Ondine multichannel SACD ODE 1146-5, 72:45 [Distrib. by Naxos ] **1/2:

Finnish pianist, conductor and composer Olli Mustonen has established himself as one of the most versatile musician on the international scene. In addition to his broad-ranging creative talents as a composer, Mr. Mustonen has worked with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras as a piano soloist – including the Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, – and has collaborated with such revered conductors as Barenboim, Harnoncourt, Salonen, Tennstedt and Vegh.  With extensive experience as a composer and pianist, Mr. Mustonen has also explored the vast territory as a conductor. In 2001, he became the founding artistic director of the Helsinki Festival Orchestra, and two years later, as the conductor of the Tapiola Sinfonietta. This present recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerti Nos. 4 & 5 represents the final of three Ondine SACDs surveying the complete Beethoven Piano Concerti with the Tapiola Sinfonietta.

In the Beethoven Fourth Concerto, Mustonen presented himself as a pianist with self-assurance and a consistency in style. He opened the lyrical opening with fluidity, at times with an articulation that is succumbed to a slightly emphasized downbeat (perhaps as a result of his duo-direction on the keyboard? This had severe consequences in the Fifth Concerto). Nonetheless, Mustonen supported the rest of the movement with a kind of momentum that was defined by beauty and optimism, and this had to do with his handling on the trajectory of phrasing. The Beethoven cadenza at 13:54 gave him both the space and breath to illustrate his expressive and controlled technique, albeit at times, it seems he could have sung a bit more rather than to skim over the score. The music of the Andante provided Mustonen the platform for an introspective approach, where poetry became the focal point of his interpretation. Unlike other of his peers, Mustonen resorted to very little pedaling, and this has the advantage of bringing crystalline clarity in his line. The Rondo finale unleashed with a spirited tempo “à la Beethoven,” and the music galloped with a buoyancy that reached a climatic statement during the Beethoven cadenza beginning at 7:22. This material was resolved by the exchange between the soloist and his musicians as they continued their dialogue in the remainder of the two minutes. Together, they appropriately drove the work to a brilliant close. Overall, the Fourth Concerto provided a fitting (mental) preparation for the next work on this album.

In the Beethoven Fifth, the opening figures by Mustonen brought back reminiscences to Gould’s 1966 recording with Leopold Stokowski from Sony Classical. As evidence, both resort to a certain articulation in response to their handling of rhythmic figures. At 5:40-5:45, and again during separate instances in 7:03-7:47 and 13:07-13:51, however, it seems to this author that Mustonen was carrying his parts beyond exaggeration at the downbeats, and that the result of these led to a loss in overall continuity of the line. This was less the case for Gould, at least as evident from his 1966 performance, where the nobility in character remained unperturbed. In the case of Mustonen’s interpretation, this approach has severe consequence to the overall fluidity and architecture of the music. Coming to a rescue, this “flaw” highlights one of those instances where an understanding support from the orchestral ensemble would be quintessential. Very much so, the Finnish ensemble provided a sympathetic echo to the passages articulated by Mustonen. The timbre of the string playing, in particular, was top-notch, and this should have come in part from the great leadership assisted by the concertmaster Meri Englund. While the Adagio movement had its sweet and mellow moments, the opening of the Rondo-Allegro movement was again greatly afflicted by such awkward rhythmic figuration coming from Mustonen, which reappeared when the motifs were repeated between 8:45-8:52. To say the very least, this was one of those rare performances from Olli Mustonen that this author would not recommend as a reference performance, although his performance of the Fourth Concerto, was otherwise highly commendable.

— Patrick P.L. Lam

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