PROKOFIEV Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 5
Olli Mustonen’s extreme interventionism is a known quantity by now, and it might be thought that of all composers Prokofiev – himself an inveterate exhibitionist – would have least to lose and most to gain from that. Even so, it takes unswerving commitment on the part of the listener to the ideal of performer’s licence to yield willingly to this kind of presentation.
Mustonen certainly cannot be accused of achieving his effects by means of velocity. If anything he does so by reining in the tempo and filling the resultant space with bizarre inflections and sudden splashes of colour and voicing, keeping the general dynamic level discreet so that every one of Prokofiev’s licks and curls can be savoured to the max. He is already up to his tricks in the narrative opening of the Second Concerto, randomly poking out notes in the accompaniment at the expense of the lyrical line, then pushing staccato grotesquerie to the max. Far from apologising for Prokofiev’s brittleness, he trains the spotlight on it. The perpetual-motion second movement is commanding and certainly not devoid of shape, but everything is too calculating and perverse to register as wit or fantasy. In the Intermezzo third movement and the finale pianist and orchestra kick up an effective storm, albeit at the expense of headlong momentum.
The opening of the Fifth Concerto promises to be another riot of colour and articulation, but after the first couple of pages it too brings diminishing returns. Like an actor who imposes his idiosyncratic voice on every part he acts, Mustonen is piquant and attractive for a while but fairly soon tiring. If he could add some charm and a smile to his repertoire and be more sparing with the leers and grimaces, he would be so much more compelling.
For a comparable level of pianistic originality, allied to more physical directness and breadth of dramatic conception, though admittedly a degree of artificiality in the recording, do give Vladimir Krainev a try.