Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Shared vision

The new Ondine disc of Prokofiev Piano Concertos puts two musicians who obviously share a common vision in front of a disciplined and virtuoso orchestra. Together they provide one of the best presentations of this vital music from a master composer.

Here is a video from Finnish television of the 3rd Concerto, recorded at a concert in 2014. Your first impression of pianist Olli Mustonen might be that he's gone over the top with his flourishes and gestures, but it's clear that he has the measure of this fiendishly difficult music. I'm fine with all of this, by the way. Notice that he's completely focussed on the music in front of him: the physical movement is not aimed at the audience, but rather is part of a physical connection with Prokofiev. As Charles Rosen says in his book Piano Notes, "There has to be a genuine love simply of the mechanics and difficulties of playing, a physical need for the contact with the keyboard." Meanwhile conductor Hannu Lintu, as restrained as Mustonen is flamboyant, nevertheless shows complete control in his mediation between the manic piano and the complexities of the orchestra's alternation between tender support and angry asides. This is an engaging performance of one of the great works of the 20th century. Notably, the version recorded the following May in the Helsinki Music Centre has no less of the fire, if a bit more polish, than the live version from the video.

The strengths of this performance of the 3rd Concerto are clear as well in the 1st and the 4th (written for the left-hand). Both Mustonen and Lintu demonstrate that the 1st is all about youthful promise fulfilled, while the 4th speaks to finding fullness through, rather than just in spite of, limitation. This outstanding release, due September 9, 2016, is most highly recommended.

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