- Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
- Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19
Quirky is a word that might be applied to these performances of Beethoven's first two piano concertos -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing, for they're quirky works. Moreover, the concertos are more quirky than rebellious, especially the "Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major," and the tendency these days is to treat the young Beethoven as a rebel. Nevertheless, potential buyers of this CD should know what they're getting into. Mustonen, playing the piano and conducting the Tapiola Sinfonietta, sculpts a performance that's all his own, with maximal contrast between the piano's and the orchestra's statements of the same material. The orchestra plays the music straight, and even plainly -- the emotional temperature of the entire disc is low, and the music is recorded at quite dynamic levels. Then, when Mustonen enters on piano, things get a little strange. Both finales are full of unorthodox accents, but the special treat, or outrage depending on your perspective, is the finale of the "Piano Concerto No. 2," where the accents on the syncopated tonic B flats are unusually strong -- and are then topped by an even stronger accent on the note on which the phrase comes to rest. The first movement of the "Piano Concerto No. 1" loses its spacious, martial character and almost seems to drag in the orchestral exposition, but then it turns into an intriguing parade of little jokes. A major attraction of the disc for audiophiles is Ondine's Super Audio sound (auditioned on a good conventional stereo) -- the engineers distributed quite a few microphones around the orchestra and created a transparency that reveals inner lines beautifully and complements Mustonen's subtle playing. The slow movements, where Mustonen drops his edgy approach, have a lovely richness in both performance and sound. There are things in this performance that would have baffled Beethoven, and it's probably not a good choice for a first recording of the concertos with which the young Beethoven wowed Vienna. But those who have heard the work many times will be either intrigued or irritated -- not in the least bored.