As a child I became enamoured with the music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who was without doubt one of the great piano composers of his generation. As an adolescent student I found huge pleasure in learning as many of his Lyric Pieces as I could (they are all between around Grades 4-8), including the deliciously evocative To Spring.
The unseasonably balmy weather in the past week has put me in mind of this lovely piece, which looks forward to the coming of Spring with infectious optimism.
There are several enjoyable and interesting performances of the piece on YouTube, including an ancient recording (barely audible) of the composer himself playing it at breakneck speed.
At the other end of the spectrum, Russian icon Sviatoslav Richter plays at less than half the composer’s tempo: a ponderous interpretation that suggests the maestro wasn’t expecting the ice to thaw anytime soon!
Here it is performed by the brilliant Alice Sara Ott, who we discover is also rather a dab hand at origami …
The internationally acclaimed concert pianist Alice Sara Ott recently issued a heartfelt and brave statement concerning her health and recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, touching on the impact this has already had on her life, and on her hopes for her career.
Alice is without question one of the leading pianists of her generation.
Her recordings for Deutsche Grammophon have been consistently excellent and innovative; as an independently-minded creative artist she has already made a huge mark, even though she only recently turned 30.
Launching my Recording of the Month feature on Pianodao last autumn, her outstanding “Nightfall” disc of Debussy, Satie and Ravel was my immediate choice for the inaugural article, which you can read here (and please do).
For this week’s Sunday Sounds, I’ve picked the enchanting opening track from that album, courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon‘s YouTube channel:
Of the many wonderful young pianists who have arrived on the international performing circuit in recent years, Alice Sara Ott impresses me as one of the more honest to her own artistic intentions, and authentic in her delivery.
Her several recordings for Deutsche Grammophon have consistently revealed Ott as an intelligent pianist, eschewing glitz for its own sake, ready and willing to plough her own musical furrow, staying true to her vision and – importantly – to the intentions and spirit of the composers whose music she identifies with.
Commenting on her latest release, Nightfall, the now-30-year-old German pianist writes:
“It’s a very personal album in which I recall many moments of light and brightness, but also moments of darkness and doubt. One month before I entered the recording studio – I was in the midst of the bleak world of Gaspard de la nuit – my father suffered a heart attack that he barely survived. Despite a fortunate outcome, these were terrifying hours and days in which I realised how close life and death are intertwined. But there can be no light without darkness, and no hope without fear. And sometimes the borders blur – as in Nightfall.”
My wife Louise and I recently visited my cousin and her husband for a delightful evening meal. At some point in the evening, conversation turned to footwear, and my cousin was appalled to learn that I often wear slippers when teaching in my home studio.
Inevitably, I was quickly ganged up on, the object of much mirth. To be honest, it was a bit harsh. Jibes included:
“How old did you say you are again – 87?”
“Do you wear pyjamas and a dressing gown too?”
And even …
“Are you trying to look like Hugh Heffner?”
Now I ask you, what kind of question is that?
Gamely, I tried to defend myself with:
“…but slippers are really comfortable when playing the piano…”
But of course this quickly led to:
“So do all your pupils bring slippers to wear too?”