Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonata No. 10.
Vers la flame
Olli Mustonen (pn)
ONDINE 1184 (67:43)
Olli Mustonen has gained many admirers over the years for his fresh conceptions of the standard (and sometimes not-so-standard) repertoire; he has, along
the way, found many detractors who feel as strongly that he allows his personality to get in the way of the music too frequently. He often adopts a quick, dry, yet bouncy
articulation, which is cited in many reviews of his performances. Interestingly, those descriptions sound pretty close to those of another pianist—Glenn Gould. He, too, was labeled as a certain type of pianist throughout his life, one who was better suited to this music or that. Regardless of one’s opinion of Gould, however, at his best he infused the music that he came to with new life—one such instance being his phenomenal take on Scriabin’s Fifth Piano Sonata. Though the initial sound world of the performer might not match one’s preconception of that of the composer’s, often it is what the performer has to say about the music that counts most.
Mustonen certainly brings out the quirkiness in much of this music, but if there is one composer who can take it, it is Scriabin. The recital begins with the early set of Etudes, op. 8. The pianist brings the requisite amount of energy to pull off the faster, more virtuosic ones (the first one rightly makes one nervous in this performance), though he is equally at home in the more lyrical and mesmerizing (and in his hands highly contrapuntal) slower ones. The 11th etude is not so much sumptuous as intricate and ornamented, while the sixth etude (featuring sixths in the right hand) dances and sparkles, betraying its salon-like qualities. Though this is early Scriabin, this is Scriabin nonetheless. The two sets of preludes that follow consist of rather short (one lasting less than 40 seconds) mood pieces. Mustonen handles them with just as much care as the more demanding etudes; his simple way with them allows their character to shine through. The demanding 10th Piano Sonata follows. Once again, Mustonen seems to feel this piece contrapuntally—the chords that emerge are as though through an x-ray. The sounds never wash together; we are never bathed in their color. Rather, the notes twinkle like individual stars in the night.
Vers la flamme
rounds out the recital. It is taken much slower than normal (Horowitz’s 5:45 and Richter’s 6:45 to Mustonen’s 8:00). There is, however, ample buildup and an entrancing opening section where time indeed seems to stop. This may not be the normal way to play Scriabin, but it is highly captivating.
Though Mustonen may at first make one question whether he is the right man for this job, the recording itself proves his case: The recital, like the composer’s career, which it mirrors, is a joy from beginning to end. Sound quality is excellent, as is my experience with Ondine. I look forward to whatever repertoire Mustonen takes on next—his insights into the music are, like Gould’s were in the 1960s, intellectually revealing and emotionally satisfying. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
Works on This Recording
Vers la flamme, Op. 72 by Alexander Scriabin
Olli Mustonen (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1914; Russia
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