Alice Sara Ott / Thomas Hengelbrock

Tchaikovsky, Liszt: First Piano Concertos

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The first piano concertos of Franz Liszt and Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky are staples of the genre and so well-known that, for some artists and audiences, they have become tired warhorses. Yet Alice Sara Ott claims an intimate connection to these works, which have been a part of her experiences since her teens, and she communicates personal expressions in passages that other pianists may find merely showy or bombastic. Ott's playing is always remarkable for her controlled touch, clarity of line, and clean technique, and her presence in both performances is strong. The quality that is perhaps less obvious in her performances, but just as important as the virtuosity, is her lyrical handling of the quiet sections. These may not be the first things listeners notice or even seek out, especially in the face of all the hammered chords, lightning-fast runs, octaves, and other keyboard pyrotechnics, but they are what make this concerto album a fascinating study. Ott's need for personalizing the music is largely dependent on her use of rubato, and the push-pull between the piano and orchestral accompaniment means that Thomas Hengelbrock and the Munich Philharmonic need to feel her interpretation, as well as follow her pulse. What results is a rather elastic style of playing in both concertos, which may not be to everyone's taste, but it certainly distinguishes Ott and her highly Romantic approach to these two monuments of the repertoire. Deutsche Grammophon's sound is full in sonority yet focused on details and not overly reverberant.

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