Mustonen string quartet no1 LAWO LWC1243

Olli Mustonen (b. 1967)
String Quartet No 1 (2016)
Piano Quintet (2014)
Engegård Quartet
Olli Mustonen (piano)
rec. 2021, Sofienburg Church, Oslo

The Finnish musician Olli Mustonen is active as a pianist, a conductor and a composer and has made recordings in all three capacities. I have come across him as a pianist before, but that has been my first opportunity to hear any of his compositions. This has been a very rewarding experience. He composes in a very accessible tonal idiom, often with a strong rhythmic drive, and his harmony will not disturb anyone who has become accustomed to Bartók, whom he admires and who has clearly influenced the quartet here, though in an entirely positive way.

We begin with the quartet, which is firmly titled No 1, though I believe there is as yet no No 2. This is in four movements. It opens with the harshest music on the whole disc. This will turn out to be important, and it returns, but never as harshly as the first time. It is followed by an eloquent solo for the viola and then with a mysterious passage in which the upper strings play scurrying passages over a throbbing note in the cello. This is the thematic material for the movement which is within hailing distance of traditional sonata form. The second movement is a scherzo, brief, vigorous and rather Bartókian, and it represents a kind of taming of the fierce material of the opening. The third movement, a slow one, is very impressive. Most of it is a series of melancholy chords in a rhythmic pattern which is constantly repeated. The movement is marked estatico e misterioso and it is certainly both, rising to a powerful climax before a coda, in which the grip of the chords and rhythm is finally relaxed. The finale returns to the opening before settling down to a fast dance marked con fuoco all’Ungharese. It makes for an exciting finish.

The piano quintet is in three movements, and in it Mustonen sometimes uses the piano to support the strings, but often to have contrasting material in a manner reminiscent of the slow movement of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto – a work which Mustonen has recorded as pianist. In the first movement a sonorous opening gives way to a heavy-footed clog dance over which the piano has soothing remarks. There are many more events including some fast driving passages. The second movement, marked quasi una passacaglia, is a set of variations on a highly chromatic theme, first stated as a single line. The finale begins with what the composer describes as three ‘false starts,’ then moves to a vigorous conclusion.

The Engegård Quartet is Norwegian and plays both in Scandinavia and across Europe. They have a particular interest in commissioning new works and in playing alongside others. Their performance of Mustonen’s quartet is assured and convincing. In the Piano Quintet Mustonen himself plays the piano, so this account is obviously authoritative. The recording is good, the sleevenote helpful and the whole gives much pleasure. I look forward to Mustonen’s second quartet.

Stephen Barber

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music