Alice Sara Ott gave a piano recital on November 22 in Queen Elizabeth Hall. There was nothing unusual about the programme: Mozart late variations (Dupont, K575), an early Beethoven Sonata (opus 2/3), a handful of Chopin Waltzes and the last of the Transcendental Studies by Liszt and his Rigoletto Paraphrase. But the playing was.
Edwin Fischer once wrote that performers "made their greatest impact when they played not in accordance with an interpretation thoughtout beforehand but when they surrendered to the sway of their imagination". That was the crucial quality of Ott's performance. How did she acquire such mastery in her twenty-three years? Her technique was never in question, it was perfect, and what is more, she made beautiful sonorities. Her technique was used as a springboard towards making significant music. And in the second half of her short programme she transported us to a higher plane.
During my long life I have heard Gieseking, Cortot, Lipatti, Horowitz, Richter, Michelangeli, Schnabel, Brendel, Lupu, Perahia and many other great pianists – added to them now is Alice Sara Ott, no doubt about that.
She is German-Japanese but the programme gave no details of her training. She played the Grieg Concerto at the Proms this year and she has been recorded and contracted by Deutsche Gramofon.
Mozart and Beethoven were both great pianists and played on the same kind of instrument (Beethoven, of course, bust strings right and left; Mozart didn't write down his earliest piano works but fortunately LvB did; no less than fourteen of his first twenty opuses are for the piano. Liszt, as we know, played Chopin's music although Chopin did not return the compliment. Isn't it curious that the majority of Chopin pianists do not play the music of Liszt, and vice versa? It seems that young Alice may be an exception to the rule.
Too often we hear Chopin's Waltzes orchestrated for the ballet but their subtleties are not suited for that medium. This rubato – what Fischer was writing about – was what brought life, colour and understanding to Ott's playing of opus 34 and 64. In Liszt she performed climaxes of passion and intensity.
As well as writing about her playing I must report on the enthusiasm in the audience by this handsome, slim girl in a simple white dress. We would willingly have stayed for more than the pair of encores she gave us; LvB's Für Elise and La Campanella, the former limpid and cantabile, the latter exciting to a degree.
All together this was an exceptional experience which quite broke through any critical reserve that I usually have. Alice Sara Ott is already the mistress of her art and if she continues to play like this she will give future audiences the greatest pleasure.