LISZT Etudes / Alice Sara Ott

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FRANZ LISZT

12 Etudes d'exécution
transcendante
Alice Sara Ott
Int. Release 08 May. 2009
1 CD / Download
0289 477 8362 6 CD DDD GH


. . . here is Alice Sara Ott . . . tossing them off for Deutsche Grammophon with ease and apparent joy. It shouldn¿t be possible, really it shouldn¿t . . . The Liszt, it¿s true, is a technical triumph. Her fingers are never afraid. They clarify the multiple strands in the most complex furies of Mazeppa. They fade away with sighing beauty at the close of Ricordanza. Between these extremes, Ott finds many of the emotional states that these Transcendental Etudes demand . . . The Chopin disc shows another light on her interpretative powers. Her phrasing can be entrancing (the Farewell waltz); so can her melancholy, and her delicate rubato . . .

Le disque Chopin éclaire sous un jour nouveau ses facultés interprétatives. Son phrasé sait être envoûtant (valse de l¿Adieu); de même que sa mélancolie, et son délicat rubato...

Her technique is dazzling, her tone wonderfully varied, from crystalline purity to powerfully raw, and the energy propelling her playing seems unstoppable. These are ferocious, swaggeringly confident accounts of the Liszt studies. . .

Performances are all fresh, authoritative, lyrical and jawdropping.

Alice Sara Ott is a remarkable talent and her account is a significant achievement full of interest.

. . . Ott has taken on each challenge with glee . . . In her studio-recording version her work is full of effortless grace and sheen, seen in the pastoral gallop of "Wilde Jagd" and the percolating intensity of "Chasse neige."

Alice Sara Ott quickly establishes that her ten fingers have what it takes, and then some. The quicksilver speed, agility, and accuracy required by No. 2 in A minor? No problem -- nor, indeed, with the devilish right-hand part of "Feux follets".

If you want the hair on your arms to stand up, Ott will do the trick . . .

Das Gelbetikett ist immer wieder für Überraschungen gut . . . Die 21-jährige Münchnerin spielt schwersten Liszt mit Eleganz und Finesse, haut in die Tasten und wahrt doch Geschmack. Ein feines CD-Debüt.



Die junge Münchner Pianistin Sara Ott glänzt mit einer Einspielung der 12 Etüden von Liszt . . . entlockt dem oft als schwierig beurteilten Werk eine erstaunliche Tiefe . . . es gelang ihr, ihren Nuancenreichtum im Ausdruck solide und spannend Schritt für Schritt auszuweiten und zu zeigen . . .

Zu den bekanntesten Stücken gehört die Nummer vier mit dem Untertitel "Mazeppa". Kraftvoll zupackend, ohne jedoch nur "hohl" zu donnern oder im Akkord- und Arpeggien-Dschungel die Linie zu verlieren, meistert Ott diese Herausforderung ebenfalls auf beachtlich hohem Niveau. Auch die Introduktion der fünften Etüde bewältigt sie mit der erforderlichen Leichtigkeit des technischen Seins . . . in all diesen kann man zusammenfassend nur den Hut davor ziehen, wie viel bezwingende Energie und plastische Gestaltungskraft Ott freisetzt und mit welcher Genauigkeit sie motivische und thematische Konturen bereits jetzt erfasst.

. . . Alice Sara Ott hat mit Liszts zwölf "Études d'exécution transcendente" . . . bei ihrem Debüt in München, beim Klavier-Festival Ruhr und in New York einen glänzenden Eindruck hinterlassen. Sie bestätigt ihn auch auf der Debüt-Platte, etwa mit dem "Preludio", wenn sie . . . die Hände mit rauschenden Kaskaden über die Tastatur gleiten lässt. Zauberhaft gelungen das atmosphärisch dichte Landschaftsbild von "Paysage" und das delikate Passagenwerk, die chromatischen Verzierungen von "Feux follets".


AN IMMENSE CHALLENGE

    Born in Munich in 1988 to a German father and a Japanese mother, Alice Sara Ott received her first piano lessons when she was four and won first prize with distinction in Germany's prestigious “Jugend musiziert" competition at the early age of seven. This was followed by further top prizes and special awards at the Steinway, Grotrian Steinweg, Bach Cöthen and other competitions, including the 4th EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association) International Competition. At the age of 15 she won first prize (the Silvio Bengalli Prize) at the Pianello Val Tidone Competition in Italy as the youngest contestant and with the highest number of points ever given in the competition's history.

    Alice Sara Ott has made an unusual speciality of performing Liszt's twelve Transcendental Etudes and has already won extraordinary praise for her live performances of the daunting cycle in Germany and Switzerland. Her triumphant recital at Munich's Herkulessaal in January 2007, playing Beethoven's “Waldstein" Sonata and the Liszt Transcendental Etudes, elicited the following extraordinary encomium in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Ott lends a personal, almost overwhelming poetic charm to this splendid music, transporting her listeners into ecstatic delight." In May 2007 at the Ruhr Piano Festival, her performances of Beethoven's “Appassionata" Sonata and the Liszt Etudes met with similar acclaim. Two month later, at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, she was awarded both the festival's own special prize and the audience prize. In 2008, she made her New York debut, playing a Liszt programme at the Yamaha Artist Center and performed the Liszt Etudes serveral times in Germany and Austria again. In May 2008 she stepped in for Murray Perahia in Basle, playing the “Waldstein" Sonata and the Liszt Transcendental Etudes and again elicited glowing reviews.

    It is only natural, then, that Alice Sara Ott has chosen this Himalayan peak of the repertoire for her DG debut. The seeds of this cycle were sown in 1826 in the set of Etudes op.1, an early flexing of Liszt's pianistic muscles. Dedicated to his teacher Carl Czerny, those studies already outstripped him in novelty, adroitness and sparkle. Then in 1838, and in the revised version of 1851, Liszt transformed these rudimentary beginnings into a craggy, fiercely demanding work that, with the exception of Alkan's Etudes opp. 35 and 39, has never been surpassed in difficulty. But if the Transcendental Etudes are Liszt's truest lexicon of technique, his virtuosity was one of poetic response as well as dexterity: the visionary calm of “Paysage", the coruscating fioriture of “Ricordanza" and the massive chord sequences of “Harmonies du soir" are as vital to the cycle's cumulative effect as the heaven-storming onslaught of “Mazeppa" or the profuse and scintillating tracery of “Feux follets". In this sense, Chopin's influence is as important as Paganini's and the final and authentic version of the Transcendental Etudes is an awe-inspiring fusion of poetry and brilliance and one of the stiffest challenges in the entire keyboard literature. Clearly, Alice Sara Ott believes in stiff challenges, as she told Bryce Morrison:

    Alice Sara Ott: Yes, this cycle is an immense challenge, but as a 19-year-old pianist I leapt at the chance to record these wonderful Etudes. I am, after all, a lion born in the year of the dragon!

    Bryce Morrison: Deutsche Grammophon must have been surprised by your choice.
    They were initially sceptical, but I won them over, and I hope my performances prove my case.

    Popular opinion still sees Liszt as a composer who wrote extensively and rapidly, even carelessly on occasion. But he was a tireless reviser, constantly seeking to clarify and refine his music. The Transcendental Etudes provide an astonishing example.

    Yes. Of the three versions, the last is the best for both pianist and listener. Here, unlike the awkward and ungrateful 1838 version, you are made aware that the Etudes are never merely technical, but a cycle of unlimited range sound and colour. They mirror every possible aspect of Liszt's multi-faceted personality: his joy, irony and desolation. Only a performance of the complete cycle captures his immense quasi-orchestral and symphonic vision.

    Sviatoslav Richter disliked complete cycles, claiming that some components of a work are, of necessity, better than others. He recorded only five of the Transcendental Etudes and declared that he particularly disliked the final study, Chasse-neige".

    With the deepest respect to a great pianist, I have to differ. “Chasse-neige" seems to me among the finest and most far-reaching of the Etudes. But, speaking personally, I wouldn't be without any of them.

    Liszt's Transcendental Etudes are for the most part larger and more orchestral in style than those by Chopin. They are more expansive and less concentrated; and although they deal with particular pianistic problems, these are much less rigorously explored than in, say, Chopin's studies in thirds, sixths or octaves. Perhaps you could say a few words about Liszt's intimidating title: Etudes d'exécution transcendante.

    I think Liszt's title suggests the immense difficulty of the Etudes, the “overpowering, unsurpassable technique of execution that Liszt and other 19th-century lions of the keyboard strove for and prided themselves on - a style characterized by blinding brilliance, grandiloquence and exalted sometimes histrionic emotionalism" (Thomas Rajna). But it also implies a going beyond or transcending of Liszt's previous creative efforts. The word “transcendental" was not used in the earlier 1826 and 1838 versions, only for his final thoughts of 1851.

    Liszt was both a visionary and a pragmatist, and he must have realized that the 1838 version of his studies could only be played by a tiny minority of pianists. Schumann called them Etudes of storm and dread - studies for, at the most, ten or twelve players in the world".

    That's true, and if you compare the three versions you can sense Liszt's very practical desire for greater accessibility in 1851. Also his instinctive wish to make his writing more brilliant and effective, his textures less clotted and opaque.

    Finally, what sort of influence do you think Liszt's magnum opus has had? He was, after all, one of music's greatest prophets.

    His influence was immense. You only have to think of Ravel pouring over “Mazeppa" and “Feux follets", two of the most demanding of the Transcendental Etudes, before he wrote his diabolically intricate suite Gaspard de la nuit. Here you can see and hear the imprint of Liszt's virtuosity. “Chasse-neige", too, provides a formidable foretaste of impressionism with its evocation of swirling snow and an elemental uproar. Later, of course, Liszt, to quote his own words, “hurled his lance far into the future", writing with an austerity and economy that look ahead to Debussy, Bartók and even Schoenberg.


    Bryce Morrison is a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London and a guest professor at the conservatories in Birmingham and Texas. He has written for Gramophone since 1992, has served on the jury of over 30 international piano competitions and has given masterclasses worldwide.