United Kingdom Debussy, Satie, Chopin, Nightfall: Alice Sara Ott (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 29.6.2019. (CC)
Debussy – Suite bergamasque; Rêverie
Satie – Gnosiennes Nos. 1 & 3; Gymnopédie No.1
Chopin – Nocturnes: B flat minor, Op. 9/1; E flat, Op. 9/2; Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op.23
A bit of chopping and changing led to the above programme. Perhaps that was why the Wigmore website had referred to the concert’s ‘first half’ when the recital was, in fact, performed straight through. So, there was much overlap with Ott’s recent DG recording Nightfall (review), but instead of Ravel Gaspard we got a small bouquet of Chopin.
House lights were off and purplish blue was projected onto the back of the Wigmore stage. A spoken introduction from Ott, which included the statement that this is the first time she’s been to London and the weather has been good (an eminently believable comment), also pointed out why the programme was called ‘Nightfall’ and not ‘Twilight’ (because of vampires). And so, to the idea of nightfall itself, where day cedes to night: not black, not white, but somewhere in between. The programme offered an exploration of this (perhaps the Chopin Op.23 Ballade less so, but more of that later) to a packed hall.
Debussy’s Suite bergamasque held many delights, not least the delicious scale at the end of the second movement (‘Menuet’). The ‘Clair de lune’ was a proper Andante, and absolutely lovely for it, while Ott’s staccato touch in the final ‘Passapied’ was a joy. The most impressive Debussy playing, though, came in the Rêverie, where Ott conjured a perfect haze via impeccable pedal technique, a transitionary, liminal sound that surely mirrored the whole idea of the programme.
Ott’s Satie was lovely, the first of the Gnossiennes coming across as almost Oriental in its language; the famous first Gymnopédie followed, with its superb right-hand legato, a hypnotising one-in-a-bar; the third Gnossienne closed the group with its poignant intervals fully honoured.
And so, to the trio of Chopin pieces, two distinctly nocturnal in both name and nature, one perhaps less so but that works as a concert closer. The first two Nocturnes from Chopin’s Op. 9 worked well, particularly the opening of the first, which eased its way in beautifully and naturally after the Satie. Ott’s octave legato is a wonder. The second of the Op.9 was perfectly chosen, that tightrope between light and dark impeccably negotiated; it also, here, held a sort of crepuscular waltz quality that linked into some passages (the 6/4 section) in the First Ballade. This performance of that infamous First Ballade was, in fact, wonderful, the lyrical second theme emerging as magnificently burnished in its loud(er) chordal statement. Perhaps the dynamic extremes were restrained in accordance with the piece’s bedmates – that is not a criticism, just a statement that there are multiple approaches and that context matters. The coda was notable for once not for its virtuosity – although that aspect was certainly there – but for the repeated, punctuating low chords between the scalic gestures, which here sounded like tolling bells at, indeed, nightfall.
This was a fascinating evening with a deeply considered approach to a concept recital, itself peeling off from a concept album. Like her DG stable mate Grimaud, Ott has a way with combining works to take one on a thought-provoking journey.
For more about Alice Sara Ott click here.