Alice Sara Ott: Nightfall
The merger of light and darkness purports to govern the programme choices for Alice Sara Ott’s latest release, although her interpretations fall more into the shades of grey category. A dark and rather somnolent aura prevails in Debussy’s Rêverie, in comparison to the 94-year-young Menahem Pressler’s shapelier traversal released a few months ago on the same label (5/18). By contrast, Ott’s straightforward, line-orientated Suite bergamasque differs from the muted hues and subjectivity characterising label-mate Seong-Jin Cho’s recent version (1/18). Compare her relatively grounded ‘Menuet’ movement to Cho’s lighter, more capricious reading and you’ll hear for yourself.
On the other hand, she underplays and tiptoes around ‘Clair de lune’, unlike Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s beautifully sung-out rendition (Decca, 7/00). Her ‘Passepied’ sounds relatively matter-of-fact and neutral when measured alongside Cho (again) and a faster, more interestingly inflected Alexis Weissenberg performance that’s also on DG (7/86). Ott’s slow and rhetorical Satie Gnossienne No 1 sounds unctuous and self-aware next to Alexandre Tharaud’s faster, more direct and comfortably idiomatic recording (Harmonia Mundi), although she treats the popular first Gymnopédie and the third Gnossienne simply and beautifully.
On to Ravel’s increasingly ubiquitous Gaspard de la nuit. For all of Ott’s attractive shadings and half tints in ‘Ondine’, other pianists bring more consistent clarity to the main chordal ostinato pattern (Aimard, Berezovsky and, of course, Michelangeli). She stretches ‘Le gibet’ out to a possibly record-breaking 9'20", as opposed to the normal five- to seven-minute range of motion. Amazingly enough, however, Ott’s carefully calibrated nuances and balances and hypnotic sense of long line prove gripping on their own terms. The repeated notes in the introduction to ‘Scarbo’ sound less foreboding and mysterious than mechanically hammered out, while the dotted rhythms are accurately executed yet lack the lightness, spring and propulsion one hears in the classic reference recordings of Pogorelich (DG, 6/83) and François (EMI/Warner). An elegant, intimately scaled Ravel Pavane closes a recital that largely goes in one ear and out the other, save for Ott’s extraordinary, not-to-be-missed slow-motion ‘Le gibet’.