Alice Sara Ott’s Pictures

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 6

Pianist Alice Sara Ott admits that there is no direct relation between the two pieces included on this live recording from the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, although I’d place Schubert’s D major sonata before Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, rather than the other way around, in order to avoid an anti-climax. Be that as it may, you cannot help but pay attention to Ott’s deliberate, serious gait in the opening Promenade. It’s followed by a grim Gnomus, touched by a smidgen of levity via Ott’s bass-line highlighting.

The Old Castle’s left-hand G-sharp ostinato retains remarkable consistency throughout: if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect digital looping! There are lighter, more whimsical Tuileries movements on disc, but Bydlo’s heavy tread is justified by Ott’s varied articulation and careful dynamic gradations. The pianist doesn’t sustain Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’s menacing momentum (the repeated notes bog down once they combine with the opening theme), while the Limoges market place’s usual hustle and bustle emerges with more civility and order than the customary bravura. I suspect that Ott paces herself in Baba Yaga’s hut in order to reserve requisite power and sonority for the Great Gate at Kiev’s finale.

Next to Richard Goode’s shapely linear cogency, harmonic awareness, and exquisite timing of transitions, Ott’s square-cut way with the Schubert D major’s first movement makes little impression beyond some sensitively shaded soft passages. While Ott takes trouble to make the Con moto’s detached and sustained phrasing distinct, her overly uniform textures do not allow for the subtle melody/accompaniment interaction with which pianists as disparate as Clifford Curzon, Sviatoslav Richter, and Vladimir Ashkenazy generate dramatic tension, especially in the movement’s latter part.

Compared to Mitusko Uchida’s polished technique and pliable rhythm, Ott’s Scherzo comes off relatively flustered, replete with mannered tenutos and tapered diminuendos. By contrast, Ott treats the nursery rhyme-like finale with kid gloves, and tries hard to be simple, yet the melodies don’t take wing until halfway through the movement. Ott’s communicative skills kick in at the coda, where the delicacy and finesse of her fingerwork are a joy to hear, which is more than I can say for DG’s tubby, diffuse sonics.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Mussorgsky: Bronfman (Sony); Schubert: Goode (Nonesuch); Curzon (Decca)


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