GRIEG Piano Concerto. Lyric Pieces
When Alice Sara Ott’s Liszt Transcendental Etudes appeared a few years back (3/10), I was mightily impressed. But the nearly simultaneous release of her still ripening Chopin Waltzes (2/10) gave pause for thought. Had pressure from overly eager promoters at DG resulted in a misfire? Subsequent desultory releases led me to wonder if my initial enthusiasm had been misplaced altogether.
As sincerely as I would wish that Ott’s new Grieg CD has swept away all doubts, I must part company with colleagues whose praise of the disc has bordered on the effusive. Esa-Pekka Salonen and the superb Bavarians carry the Concerto, providing one of the most sumptuous, vibrant and finely honed accompaniments imaginable. Cello, flute, oboe, bassoon and horn solos are each more ravishing than the last. When Ott’s curious reticence, manifest mostly as contrived rubato, threatens to bring things to a halt, the orchestra step in to save the day. In the first-movement cadenza, Ott so inflates the massive chordal statement of the principal theme that the line is lost. Most successful is the Adagio, with some nice interplay between soloist and orchestra. Its aura, however, is quickly dispelled in the finale, where Ott’s capricious rubato again obtrudes.
On her own Ott seems more comfortable. Several of the Lyric Pieces exude a genuine charm, though in slower tempi her tendency to come to a full stop between phrases can lend the music a static quality. In more brisk pieces such as ‘Wedding Day at Troldhaugen’ (Op 65 No 6), overstated emphases sap momentum. Compared to the exquisite Grieg recordings by Andsnes, Hough or Pletnev, not to mention those of Rubinstein or Gieseking, these readings face an uphill battle.
DG’s characteristically luxurious sound reproduction is a big factor in the disc’s appeal. Meanwhile, we must wait for Ott to exhaust her self-conscious striving after originality and truly find her groove. She has so much to offer.