Mussorgsky/Tchaikovsky/Balakirev

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COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky/Tchaikovsky/Balakirev
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition; Children’s Album; Islamey
PERFORMER: Olli Mustonen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 436 255-2 DDD
The 25-year-old Finnish Olli Mustonen is an original. His first disc for Decca of preludes by Shostakovich and Alkan won an Edison Award. Here he sandwiches 24 little pieces which Tchaikovsky wrote for children, between well-known virtuoso war-horses.

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He starts Islamey brilliantly, but in the first slow section the music soon crumbles in short-winded phrasing and coy little percussive effects; at times the sound virtually disappears. The Tchaikovsky pieces follow in the same brittle style, so that one’s ears are not so much tickled as continually pricked. But the strangest thing of all on the disc is Mustonen’s wayward treatment of Pictures, in which he starts pulling the rhythms about from the very beginning, even though it’s marked in strict time. His characterisation of these vivid pieces is designed to be anything but obvious, but the unexpected articulation – often staccato instead of legato – and fey parody of expression scarcely ever justify themselves. The recorded sound is correspondingly hard. You never know, this might become a cult classic. But for me the whole thing is throughly misguided and should go straight to the top of Decca’s deletion list. Adrian Jack