Emperor Concerto – Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Friday 20th April

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – Piano/Director: Olli Mustonen

It’s one thing (and by far taxing enough) to play two Beethoven piano concertos over the course of a single concert. Then add directing from the piano, and having one’s own work for symphony orchestra played in between, and you have Finnish renaissance man Olli Mustonen.

Far less well-known than its Emperor cousin, Beeethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is nevertheless a gem. Mustonen approached it with enthusiasm and zeal, leaping out of the piano stool at every opportunity to drive the orchestra on. That said, it was certainly when seated that the best magic was woven, with the daring, ever so flirtatious cadenza to the first movement being particularly impressive. The orchestra were not afraid to feel the pesante weight of the rondo as the piano danced brilliantly over the top.

Mustonen’s own piece – Jehkin Iivana – was given its Australian premiere with no less enthusiasm. Drawing on Finnish history and folklore, the music wove together fragments of kantele song ( a plucked string instrument using modal tuning, here reproduced by the flutes), church hymn-like melodies, and soundscape sections reminiscent of Finland’s winter wilderness. Despite its atonality, the work’s lilting melodies and constantly shifting texture invited the ear with its contemplative expanse.

In his return to the piano stool, Mustonen confirmed that it is here that his talent and musicality are at their best. The sparkling slow movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, soaring over the already mesmerised audience, ¬†was without a doubt highlight of the evening.