To begin our month-long focus on Beethoven it feels appropriate to start with a recording that underscores a central fact about Beethoven: that he was a composer who was driven to evolve. Alice Sara Ott, a 23-year-old German-Japanese pianist, tackles two of his C-major sonatas, the Op. 2 No. 3, and the Op. 53 "Waldstein." These works reveal Beethoven as man and artist at two very different stages in his life and Ott has reportedly spent a decade studying their inner workings.
Certainly, the ranks of Beethoven pianists to have recorded these works are great and vast: Claudio Arrau, Richard Goode, Alfred Brendel, Artur Schnabel, Maurizio Pollini – the list goes on. But Beethoven presents an interpretive lineage that shouldn’t stand still. Ott, who has previously made well-received recordings of Chopin and Liszt for Deutsche Grammophon, gives us much to appreciate here.
The “Waldstein” closely reflects Beethoven’s own situation at this time: he was in despair at his failing hearing, and he even toyed with the idea of taking his own life. The key of C major, which normally suggests brightness and energy, here it commands a feeling of restlessness and despair. Ott capably highlights the work’s harmonic digressions and almost delirious prestissimo finale.
By contrast, the Op. 2 No. 3 sonata, published when Beethoven was just 26, is dedicated to Haydn and mirrors that composer's genial and high-spirited musical nature. Ott again brings out its numerous details – most notably the runs, trills and sudden contrasts of the finale.
The album is rounded off with the fierce Rondo, “Rage Over a Lost Penny,” and the beautiful Andante favori, originally written as the Waldstein's slow movement. Watch her performance of the Adagio from Op. 2 No. 3 below:
Beethoven Piano Sonatas
Alice Sara Ott
Available at Arkivmusic.com