A re-sculpted programme framed a new piece by Olli Mustonen. The tone was set with seven of Bartók’s For Children miniatures, based on meticulous transcriptions of folk tunes. Mustonen’s percussive attack rang around Wigmore Hall gathering vertiginous speed for the penultimate piece. Steven Isserlis then joined Mustonen for Sibelius’s Malinconia, an intense dialogue exploring the sadness, introspection and agitation of grief. Isserlis’s sound was never less than beautiful.
Mustonen’s Taivaanvalot (Heavenly Lights) resonates with folk themes and lovely narrative effects as the story within a story unfolds: the piano’s bell-like chords ushered in the spoken/sung saga, fragments from the Kalevala depicting the fight to defeat Louhi, the Mistress of the Northland, who imprisons the sun and the moon. Ian Bostridge excelled in his role as word-painter, evoking ancient landscapes in almost operatic style. Isserlis and Mustonen also expanded their interpretative gifts.
Bostridge dominated the stage at the opening of the second half with three dramatic Schumann settings of Heine. Belsazar continued the theatrical narrative on a grand scale to great effect, but was lacking in detail or nuanced interpretation; nor much light and shade in Die beiden Grenadiere. This was found in abundance in the pieces by György Kurtág. Isserlis has enjoyed a close identification with this music of extraordinary translucency: intimate, introspective and deeply spiritual. The three musicians were reunited for Richard Rodney Bennett’s Tom O’Bedlam’s Song, written for Peter Pears in 1961 and reflects the influence of Britten in the stunning vocal line. Schubert’s glorious and appropriately valedictory Auf dem Strom concluded the evening in fine style.