Alice Sara Ott – London Debut

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt: Alice Sara Ott (piano),Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 22. 11. 2011 (CC)

Mozart Variations in D on a Minuet by Duport, K573
Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 3 in C, Op. 2/3
Chopin Three Waltzes, Op. 34.
Chopin Waltzes, Op. 64 – Nos. 1 in D flat (‘Minute’ Waltz) & 2 in C sharp minor
Liszt Études d’exécution transcendente, S139: No. 11, Harmonies du soir; No. 12, Chasse-neige. Concert Paraphrase on Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, S434

Munich-born German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott is one of Deutsche Grammophon’s high flyers. Still in her youth, she plays with creditable assurance and possesses a magnificent technique. She holds herself with confidence, even in the arena of her London solo debut as part of the International Piano Series. Whatever my caveats, it is important to remember that Ott is a pianist of musical intelligence and integrity. She is no Lang Lang, and for that we should all thanks the Gods and Goddesses. Her DG recordings have attested to her talents (the Liszt Transcendental Studies, most notably). To have my impressions confirmed was most welcome.

If the Liszt of the second half was to attest to Ott’s super-virtuoso status, the Mozart Variations that opened the concert (a late set, from 1789) were as charming as could be. The technique was strong and sure, and Ott honoured the rapt moments as well as ensuring the theme’s return was effective as a compositional strategy.

The Beethoven C major sonata from the Op. 2 set is notorious in its difficulties, none of which taxed Ott. Her swift, fleet first movement carried great strength (some fortes were unnecessarily harsh, however) and she accorded silences their full weight. Contrasts were well judged and the brief cadenza was well rendered. A pity the majority of the audience (or so it seemed) applauded after the first movement.

The Adagio is a movement of great gravitas and requires real emotional maturity. Ott couldn’t quite rise to its demands – the overview was not really there. It was in the delightful, kittenish counterpoint of the third movement that Ott sounded far more at home, while the difficult finale was super-fluent.

Her Chopin, too, was variable. The first of the Op. 34 Waltzes could have been more evocative, but it was the A minor that suffered. The fast pace and lack of shading to the melody was a shame; similarly, the F major third of the set sparkled but lacked the vital element of humour. Far better was the second Waltz of Op. 64 (the C sharp minor), beautifully modulated and charming.

And so to that Liszt. There was more character here. The only real caveat is that Ott’s bass register could have had more presence; but the lines of “Harmonies du soir” had a real cantabile to them. Ott’s ability to deliver clean textures, even in the most complex of passages, made for a memorable “Chasse-neige”. Finally, the “Rigoletto” Paraphrase, a magnificent pot-boiler (its brevity always surprises me). Ott underlined the subtleties of the score, to her credit, to deliver a hypnotic reading.

There were two encores: Beethoven’s Für Elise and more Liszt (“La Campanella”). It will be interesting to watch Ott grow as a musician.

Colin Clarke