Bartók – Romanian Folk Dances
Chopin – Three Waltzes; Scherzo No 2 in B-flat minor Op 31
Liszt – Consolations; Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 in C-sharp minor
This was a captivating BBC Lunchtime Concert with the remarkable German-Japanese pianist, Alice Sara Ott interrupting some performances in Germany to take the opportunity to ‘show off’ in the best possible way. It was a programme with some music that even I recognised and contained, I guess, some of the most (over?) performed works. She presented a gamine, elfin figure at the piano and never more so than when she sat typically bare-footed and cross-legged on her stool as she fielded – and to a degree batted away – the questions about the music from BBC Radio 3 presenter, Fiona Talkington. Most of her answers returned to the fact that this lunchtime recital at 1pm was ‘early morning’ for her and her day usually starts after 2pm!
Now in her twenties, Alice Sara Ott’s interest in playing the piano began after being taken to her first recital at the age of three. She suggested that these three composers were not ones she would usually put together but revealed how she had not played Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances for twenty years since she was 7 but said it was a ‘nice opportunity to go back in my past.’ She said how the Chopin’s Waltzes are not cheerful music but like all composers there are parts which are and his Scherzo ‘is one of the darkest pieces I have heard so far’. She was happier discussing Liszt’s lifestyle (‘much wilder than the Rolling Stones’) more than the music but said how by the time he composed his second Hungarian Rhapsody he had discovered the possibilities of what the piano could do and how it was ‘technically very challenging’ … especially at the time of day she was playing!
Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances were written in 1915 and these six near-perfect musical miniatures immediately allowed Alice Sara Ott to display a command of her instrument’s sonic possibilities. It was clear here and in all she subsequently played that she completely internalises her repertoire, and despite the early hour(!) her deep knowledge of the music and absolute technical security allowed her to communicate real pleasure to her audience.
Chopin’s Three Waltzes began with the well-known C-sharp minor Op.64 No.2 and was followed by the A minor Op.34 No.2. Both were – as expected – phrased expertly, with an elegiac melodic beauty that was entrancing. An ‘old chestnut’, the ‘Minute Waltz’ completed the trio and was played with febrile energy.
When at a piano recital it is difficult to know where to sit – do I need to see the concentration on the pianist’s face and their ‘oneness’ with what they are playing or their fingering which can amaze and astound and yet distract from appreciating the music? I chose the latter and was glad I did because at times Alice Sara Ott’s hands were a blur and it was only because I could see them that I could believe that one pair of hands could play all the notes which I was hearing. This was particular true for Liszt’s 1847 Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in C-sharp minor after an intensely felt account of Liszt’s six Consolations – apparently (according to Edward Bhesania’s programme note) ‘works that are within reach of the amateur player’.
Before that there was Chopin’s Scherzo in B-flat minor Op.31 when the pianist brought out all the dramatic possibilities of the score and this continued through the Liszt. The tenderly poetic playing of the Scherzo’s middle section was very alluring and she despatched Chopin’s runs and double-handed chords with élan and powerful virtuosity.
The Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody is undoubtedly a difficult piece to successfully bring off but Miss Ott appeared to revel as much in its pianistic trickery as in its colourful folkish character and humour. It had great brilliance, panache and power, as well as, faultless technique. I would love to hear Ott playing some of Liszt’s operatic paraphrases and transcriptions in the near future.
BBC Radio 3 will broadcast this concert on Wednesday 2 December at 1pm and it is well worth hearing.
For more about music on BBC Radio 3 visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3.
For more information about Alice Sara Ott’s forthcoming performances visit http://www.alicesaraott.com/.