WORKS: Symphony No. 3; The Four Temperaments
PERFORMER: Helsinki Festival Orchestra/Olli Mustonen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1022-2
As a musical interpreter, Olli Mustonen the conductor is very like Olli Mustonen the pianist. Detail after detail is finely articulated, as though etched with the point of a needle. You only have to listen to the very beginning of Sibelius’s Third Symphony to sense how much care has gone into judging the weight of the notes and their relationship to each other, even though it’s all as hushed and light-toned as Sibelius asks. Sometimes Mustonen takes this too far, as in the chordal string theme that marks the real beginning of Sibelius’s finale – dainty rather than Sibelius’s ‘energetic’. But set against this are passages where the clarity and extraordinary finesse yield something I can only describe as visionary.
It’s not a completely satisfactory Sibelius Third – and as conductor Mustonen isn’t always as successful at internal balance as he is at the keyboard – but it’s still a performance I’m glad I heard. For a single recommendation the older Colin Davis version (Philips) leads the field (especially mesmerising in the central waltz movement), with the more sinewy Osmo Vänskä (BIS) hard on his heels.
But for the Hindemith there is no serious competitor. Hindemith himself would probably have been surprised by the poetry and ardour Mustonen finds in it, and without a hint of preciousness. Good, clear recordings. Stephen Johnson