Olli Mustonen is a tantalising prospect on any roster. Seemingly with his fingers in all of the musical pies, he composes, conducts, directs music festivals, and all after having made his initial leap to prominence as a gifted pianist. These are the various avenues through which Mustonen applies his philosophy: that each performance should exhilarate with the feeling of first-time encounter. Tonight, Mustonen juggled the roles of pianist and conductor in an all-Mozartian programme. There were flashes of the sort of exhilaration for which he strives, though ultimately his uneven contributions bore mixed results.

Olli Mustonen © Outi Montosen
Olli Mustonen
© Outi Montosen

The programme spotlighted two periods of Mozart's output, interspersing the Piano Concerto no. 26 and Symphony no. 38 from his mature Viennese period with the earlier Salzburg court entertainment of the Divertimento in D major and the Serenata notturna. Radiant D major roots the works in jocundity, and it was immediately clear that La Verdi have a gleam in their sound to match – silvery strings, fragile winds and an extreme attention to balance that ensures a melded whole. Mustonen added shape and spice to render the orchestra's contribution a stylish one.  

Far from the edge-of-the-seat spontaneity that one expects from this conductor, his rendition of the Divertimento in D major possessed a sense of well-rehearsed control. The Allegro had an airy one in a bar feel, and the violins' razor-sharp semi-quavers chugged along rather than than scampered. Mustonen conjured vivid forms with his batonless paws, releasing high-hanging violins with a horizontal swoosh. The Andante's weeping willows unravelled to rococo gestures.

After such high-quality playing, it was unexpected when the aural cohesion crumbled in the Piano Concerto no. 26. A lack of balance blotted the introduction, and wind interjections were heavy-handed beneath the solo piano's opening passage. There were moments of insight from Mustonen – he quivered and vibrated with precarious intensity for much of the Allegro – though virtuoso passages were smudged in an overworked mining for material, and he smattered through some of the more obvious opportunities for expressivity (the metamorphosis from orchestra's rising minor 6th to piano's major 6th can be irresistibly sweet; here, it was flat). There is no doubting Mustonen's abilities as a pianist and conductor. But swinging from piano stool to upright conducting, there was the feeling that he had spread himself too thinly.

The Serenata notturna brought us back to the party with music written for Milan's Carnival celebrations of 1776. The city surfaced from this year's instalment of the nocturnal revelries barely two weeks ago, though any sign of post-jamboree grogginess had evidently been shaken off by our concertino of orchestra seniors, who sparkled against their amassed tutti counterpart, seemingly illuminated in the shimmer of violinist Lycia Viganò's flowing red on black gown. It was a magnetic performance, characterised by humorous melodrama and an exchange of broad grins. Viganò produced a gloriously astringent solo fragment, whilst Gabriele Mugnai used his swooning viola to portray the part of staggering wit. When in the Rondò lead violinist Luca Santaniello promised to bring his twerky bird calls to a close, he proceeded to repeat the figure on a loop, appealing to his colleagues for guidance in a piece of slapstick that delighted the audience.

Finishing the piece in high spirits, the orchestra carried the energy into a rollicking performance of the Symphony no. 38 where the relationship between orchestra and director reached new heights. There was real forward momentum in the long, coiling Adagio introduction, before the orchestra blazed optimism when it exploded in a train of bubbling notes. The serene Andante was taken at a brisk pace so that the momentum never waned. Lilting figures had a gorgeous transparent quality, though Mustonen leaned forwards for the strings' chromatic wanderings atop rotating harmonies to unearth a striking dark brown. The finale provided adrenaline with bursts of controlled turbulence and licking violins with a kick in the heel. The performance thrilled from start to finish.

This programmatic chocolate box was full of well-selected Mozartian treats. As a pianist, Mustonen failed to deliver as would have been hoped, though in the role of conductor his rapport with the orchestra bore delightful results.