Picture credit: Stefan Hoederath/Redferns
Artillery Row

Flickering with fire and ice

Beethoven: 1st piano concerto, &c (DG)

This weirdly unbalanced album opens with a live performance of Beethoven’s first piano concerto in and continues with solo pieces from the bottom drawer, some of which are little higher than kindergarten level in difficulty. No explanation is offered in the glossy booklet.

To work out what’s really going on. You’ll have to delve into the background of Alice Sara Ott, the German-Japanese soloist who, four years ago, made it known that she had been stricken with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative condition. In sympathy and solidarity, her record label has been quietly gathering her unreleased material while Alice continues to enhance her reputation at live as and when she can manage. Last week, for example, was a good week; she played the thunderous Grieg concerto in Lille, France, to a tremendous reception. At 35, an exact contemporary of Yuja Wang, Alice ranks among the most interesting interpreters of her generation.

This album is no let-down. The concerto flickers with fire and ice in the solo passages, steering between passages of orchestral bombast that prefigure Beethoven’s symphonies. Karina Canellakis conducts the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra with admirable poise, letting the soloist present a contemplative contrast to the hustle and bustle, notably in the Largo middle movement.

Alice follows the concerto with a solitary reading of the Moonlight Sonata, introspective and glistening like a somnambulistic salmon on Atlantic migration. Why she then felt a need to play the hackneyed Für Elise is incomprehensible but she does so with a laconic twinkle that stands in ironic contrast to the phony solemnity of Lang Lang and other chest-beaters.

The remaining four Beethoven pieces are short, uncatalogued and not altogether remarkable. The last, in B minor, ends somehow up in the air, without resolution. I think we can guess the meaning. It is profoundly moving.

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