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S & H Recital Review

Olli Mustonen Bach & Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 20th Feb 2002 (PGW)


The QEH has, mercifully, abandoned its experiment with video 'enhancement' trained onto the keyboard, but even if your seats were not at the preferred keyboard side (where the sound of a piano is often inferior!) there was no problem about 'seeing the hands' of this pianist. Olli Mustonen offered a visual show of unique self-indulgence - one wondered if a choreographer should have been listed in his CV credits. For a quiet note, his right hand may descend from above head height; describe arabesques in the air, and sometimes he flutters his fingers. Significant moments are brought to our attention by attacking the keyboard from the back of his head, at others from a bizarre gesture at the back of his neck, as if he had to brush away an irritating insect. One could only guess that all this was based upon some alternative-medicine notion of relaxation, a world away from the unostentatious poise of Sokolov for whom such antics would be anathema.

To the music, and Mustonen's idea of building two two-hour combined programmes from his own chosen sequence of these master works - the first double CD set up in the foyer for purchase afterwards and for The Signing. It was as quirky and predictably unpredictable as appearances made one fear. Hard, spiky tone, high velocity to demonstrate finger dexterity, exaggerations of dynamics with 'expressive' hairpins in slower pieces; as mannered to hear with eyes shut as when watching with total disbelief at this display of the cult of the personality, and the perpetual search for the new and different, to market performers of our time.

For Bach 's '48', Ralph Kirkpatrick on the clavichord (which has the capacity of its successor for dynamic shading) restores some sense of historical style (DG Archiv 463 601-2). For the modern piano, spend your money better with Angela Hewitt or Bernard Roberts (Nimbus NI5508/11 4); for Shostakovich, there is Tatyana Nicolaieva, the original dedicatee of the 24 Preludes & Fugues (Melodia 74321 19849-2).

Peter Grahame Woolf

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