Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Piano Concerto in D, Op.61a [arranged by the composer from Violin Concerto in D, Op.61]
Recorded October & November 2007 in Tapiola Hall, Espoo, Finland
CD No: ONDINE ODE 1123-5 [CD/SACD Hybrid] Duration: 75 minutes Reviewed: July 2008
Olli Mustonen – Beethoven Piano Concertos: No.3 & D major
Reviewed by Antony Hodgson
The D major Piano Concerto represents Beethoven’s own arrangement of his Violin Concerto. Recording companies have tended to neglect this work and it makes a welcome appearance as part of Olli Mustonen’s second disc of his complete survey of Beethoven’s concertos.
An intriguing feature of this arrangement is the cadenza that Beethoven composed for the first movement. He did not write one for the Violin Concerto itself and the conception of the one for the transcribed version is very pianistic – and intriguing because of the interplay between solo piano and solo timpani, a highly original concept, which seems to foreshadow the combination of piano and timpani toward the end of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto. Less convincing is the rather banal cadenza that ends the slow movement and concludes with repetitive hints of the two notes that commence the finale. I have always been fascinated by the first-movement cadenza and greatly admire Wolfgang Schneiderhan’s brilliant solution to the Violin Concerto cadenza where he skilfully and convincingly arranges the piano version for the violin. Ondine’s recording is very immediate but gives the impression of a very ‘present’ piano. The balance between piano and orchestra is not badly done but the orchestra seems surrounded by a greater degree of resonance than the closely-recorded solo instrument every single note of which is audible, even when playing a subsidiary part. This certainly makes the huge difference in concept between the violin and piano versions of Opus 61 very obvious (although the acoustic makes the timpani seem reticent when set against the piano in the first movement cadenza). I have tried to love the transcription ever since I first encountered it in Felicja Blumenthal’s version – for years the only one available – but somehow the melodic line seems not to flow. In Mustonen’s performance, despite immaculate accuracy, his emphatic phrasing and sharply defined accents exaggerate this feeling of angularity. The C minor Piano Concerto gives a similar feeling. Here is playing of great force, brilliance and exactness but, as with the D major Concerto, the phrasing of the melodic line is very personal. There are many forceful accents followed by frequent tapering away of phrases – rather like an actor underlining the meaning of a sentence by firmly stressing certain words and syllables. This is particularly in evidence in the playful melodies of the finale but in another context I also find the reflective opening of the slow movement to be overstated because of the stretching and bending of the melodic line; there is a temptation here for artists to be very subjective – for example I recall hearing Claudio Arrau perform the work and fully understood the reviewer’s concern the following day when he said that Arrau had lingered for so long on the first note of the movement that he began to fear that the pianist had forgotten the second one!
Well, Mustonen is not as eccentric as that but there are some extremes of expression and certain of the accented sforzandi sound very angry. Despite many examples of subjectivity, Mustonen’s tempos are quite convincing and are well sustained. The only deviations are within individual phrases and so can be regarded not as tempo changes but as examples of bold rubato. This is a disc for those who want to explore Beethoven’s intriguing re-thinking of his Violin Concerto and who also appreciate hard-hitting pianism.