Prokofiev: Piano Concertos – No 1 in D flat major Op 10; No 3 in C major, Op 26; No 4 in B flat major, Op 55

Reviewed on Thu 24 Nov, 2016

To call this a ‘stiletto-heeled Prok Three’ wouldn’t be too far off the mark: even the second movement’s cool first solo entry sounds oddly affected, and the concerto’s close, although very accomplished technically, wants for genuine visceral excitement.

Under Hannu Lintu’s direction the Third Concerto’s Andante opening, with its intertwining clarinets and answering strings, is as balmy as anyone could wish for. Then, come the ensuing allegro, in hops Olli Mustonen, pirouetting, leaping and generally indulging an immaculate staccato touch wherever possible. To call this a ‘stiletto-heeled Prok Three’ wouldn’t be too far off the mark: even the second movement’s cool first solo entry sounds oddly affected, and the concerto’s close, although very accomplished technically, wants for genuine visceral excitement. The First Concerto’s opening Allegro brioso is similarly brittle, and when we reach the skipping second idea at 2:25 Mustonen’s coy little hesitations sound mannered. All this is a pity because, as piano playing per se, Mustonen’s performances are very accomplished – quasi-Gouldian would be the obvious way to describe them, the work of a keyboard provocateur with a keen recreative imagination. Lintu and his orchestra, however, are pleasingly consistent. The bittersweet Fourth Concerto (for left hand) is easily the best item on the disc, and draws from both Mustonen and Lintu a performance that is persuasive and perceptive. But as for the other concertos, being ‘interesting’ isn’t quite enough to warrant a wholehearted recommendation; as for front-runners, it’s Ashkenazy (Decca), Krainev (Melodiya) and Bavouzet (Chandos) all the way, at least in the context of a complete cycle of the concertos.
–Rob Cowan