Olli Mustonen plays Beethoven

Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos. 4 & 5
Olli Mustonen, Tapiola Sinfonietta
Ondine ODE11465

If there is a concerto in the central repertory for which mere virtuosity is necessary but in no way sufficient for a satisfactory performance, then that concerto is Beethoven’s fourth, in G major. For while there are plenty of opportunities to impress with fleetness of fingers, the dramatic effect of the work is entirely contingent on the maintenance of long term rhythmic coherence. And this can only come
from considered partnership between orchestra and soloist.

It helps, therefore, if the soloist and conductor are one and the same person, as in this energetic new recording from the Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen and the Tapiola Sinfonietta, with whom Mustonen now works regularly as a conductor. The present disc concludes the partnership’s set of Beethoven concertos, with discs of the first two concertos and the third, coupled with Beethoven’s piano arrangement of his violin
concerto, both emerging a couple of years ago.

From the outset, you can tell Mustonen’s reading of the fourth will be interesting, simply by the lilting lift that crowns the opening phrase. By the end, the impression is more than confirmed. There is flexibility to Mustonen’s phrasing, both in the solo part and in the orchestra, which allows Beethoven’s well-worked melodies space to breath. But these little touches never interrupt the gradually rising tension which derives far more from harmonic and tonal structure than from any thematic development. The Andante shows Mustonen’s pianism at its most tender and lyrical, while the third movement reveal the Sinfonietta to be as lithe and responsive an ensemble as one could wish for.

The fifth concerto is less striking in terms of its originality but no less impressive for its commitment and subtlety. The rigours of the outer movements are dispatched with brio, reminiscent at times of the Finnish pianist’s Russian neighbours – Kissin certainly, but also Gilels – while the middle movement is quite breathless in its beauty, Mustonen stroking the notes, drawing stretched lines from the piano like a lover eliciting fond reminiscences of the previous movement’s grand passions.

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