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Dissatisfying conclusion to a Prokofiev sonata cycle by Olli Mustonen on the Wigmore Corridor – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United Kingdom Prokofiev: Olli Mustonen (piano). Wigmore Corridor, London, 1.11.2022. (JC)

Olli Mustonen © Julian Kingma

Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No.5; Piano Sonata No.8; Piano Sonata No.1; Piano Sonata No.3; Piano Sonata No.7

The final of the 9 written as just lately as three quarters of a century in the past, Prokofiev’s piano sonatas are so typically programmed in piano recitals these days that they’ve change into consecrated into the canon regardless of their comparatively younger age. So typically performed are the three Struggle Sonatas (Nos. 6, 7 and eight) in concert events and competitions that it’s straightforward for us to neglect the opposite six (though No.3 can also be reasonably in style and No.2 is making a comeback in recent times), additionally gems in their very own proper in addition to testomony to the ingenious genius of Soviet Russia’s enfant horrible.

I used to be due to this fact very excited to see the Prokofiev sonatas carried out as a cycle, although I used to be solely capable of attend the second of the 2 nights over which Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen performed the entire Prokofiev sonatas. Programmed individually, the items are adrenaline-filled showstoppers, heartrending laments and quirky pastiches; put collectively, they chart the composer’s musical life and show the range of his composing fashion, which ranges from the Neo-Romantic (No.1) to the experimental (No.5) to the borderline atonal (No.7).

Sadly, Olli Mustonen very a lot insisted on imposing his personal distinctive efficiency idiom onto Prokofiev’s music, the consequence being that a lot of the musical substance within the rating was left untouched, and I had the impression of a live performance the place every sonata blended with each other; by the top, Mustonen’s fashion of taking part in had change into all too predictable, whereas nothing a lot of Prokofiev may very well be discerned.

The recital was properly programmed; the primary half married a tranquil and light-hearted Fifth Sonata with a wealthy and dramatic Eighth Sonata, whereas the second half was a virtuoso show, with the 2 one-movement sonatas (Nos. 1 and three) paving the way in which for the manic and bombastic Seventh Sonata.

Regardless of the lightness of Mustonen’s left-hand accompaniment, there was little tranquillity within the Allegro tranquillo of Prokofiev’s Fifth Piano Sonata. Maintain pedal was solely very sparsely used regardless of the apparent want for it, and Mustonen punctuated motifs and melodies in a fashion a lot harsher than I might have appreciated, hammering sure keys based on his personal whim, a mode which I later got here to understand was distinctly his. I might have appreciated longer melodic strains and a better sense of the construction (Prokofiev, for all his erraticism, was at coronary heart a classicist in the case of kind). Nonetheless, I did benefit from the second motion of the Sonata performed within the fashion of Mustonen, which was very cheeky and reasonably provocative.

Within the phrases of Sviatoslav Richter, one of many nice performers of the Eighth Sonata: ‘Of all Prokofiev’s sonatas, that is the richest. It has a fancy internal life, profound and stuffed with contrasts.’ I discovered this ‘internal life’ and profundity missing in Mustonen’s taking part in, the place Prokofiev’s lengthy lyrical melodies have been as soon as once more punctured by accents that solely served to interrupt the circulation of the music. The spontaneous liberties Mustonen took with time sadly solely detracted from the richness of the music already current. It appeared to me as if he solely needed to make use of Prokofiev’s music as a canvas the place he might add dabs of his personal musical concepts right here and there. The efficiency of the Eighth Sonata was too whimsical for my liking. Regardless of the large sound he was capable of create on the piano, with no sense of the construction and any type of build-up, the wild finale of the Sonata solely appeared to me a barrage of sound.

After the interval, I discovered a seat the place I had a greater view of Mustonen’s palms. By now, I had gotten used to his theatrics and dramatic gestures, which included elevating the arms actually excessive, air-conducting with free palms and wiggling them as if paying homage to Gergiev. He was all the pieces the inflexible, business-like Prokofiev was not, and his taking part in confirmed very a lot the identical too.

The First Sonata was performed with a dissatisfying lack of pedal, and there was not one of the broad brushes of Romanticism nonetheless very a lot obvious within the youthful Prokofiev’s fashion, solely Mustonen highlighting melodic motifs on the expense of all else.

There isn’t a denying Mustonen’s technical talents; the pace he took with among the quick actions have been above-average, to place it calmly. Nonetheless, I assumed the manic tempo of Mustonen’s taking part in labored properly for the Third Sonata, which added a way of hysteria to the pulsing quavers which pervade your entire Sonata. This nervous, barely unhinged means of taking part in, created by the subito pianos and the accents below Mustonen’s fingers, was much more efficient within the opening of the Seventh Sonata, marked Allegro inquieto. Nevertheless, when it got here to the expressive second topic, Mustonen insisted on taking part in it his personal means, and the music merely got here out too harsh and abrupt.

The Precipitato motion, which acted as each the finale of the Seventh Sonata and the finale to Mustonen’s Prokofiev sonata cycle, is understood for the joy it induces, each within the viewers and the performer. So in style is it that it’s typically taken out of its context and used as encores or carried out as an indication of 1’s virtuosity in such a means that one would have thought Prokofiev had marked Presto as an alternative of Precipitato. Nonetheless, I’ve by no means heard this motion performed as quick as Mustonen performed it tonight, so quick all the pieces was a blur other than the accents. It’s due to this fact with an ironic tone that the programme notes announce that the third and closing motion of the sonata, ‘when performed very quick and really loud…can sound hole and bombastic.’ Within the closing two pages, that are horrendously tough to execute, Mustonen, in his mania, even upped the ante in order that the music changed into a cascade of improper notes that bore resemblance to the rating solely in its adherence to the rhythm. Positive, it’s spectacular to see a performer’s palms transfer so quick over the keyboard, however this motion is a lot greater than that.

For me, this live performance was solely a show of Olli Mustonen’s personal efficiency idiom, and a variety of what I had hoped to listen to in Prokofiev’s music I sadly didn’t get an opportunity to listen to. A reasonably disappointing Prokofiev sonata cycle and sadly not one for the books.

Jeremy Chan

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