Alice Sara Ott Reveals Two Sides of Beethoven's Pianism

Monday, October 31, 2011

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
Deutsche Grammophon
Available at

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Comments [11]

Hi Michael:
We've taken a second look at our terms of service and realized that someone posted anonymously under your name, which is a violation of our policy. As a result, we've removed the anonymous commenter's posts from this thread and we are taking a close look at our comments system.
Thanks for your patience on this matter and our apologies for the confusion.

Nov. 07 2011 10:14 AM

Thank you for your "thank you," Mr. Meltzer. If you are correct that the "Beautiful" commentator is illiterate,or at least clueless about punctuation, then the field of possible guilty commentators is broadened rather than narrowed. After watching the video clip of Ms. Ott, I am now even more assured about my "publicist" theory. Good luck.

Nov. 05 2011 04:35 PM
Michael Meltzer

Forgive the following false entries, but in continuing to compose my FCC complaint it was necessary to demonstrate that it was indeed possible for an outsider to post under false name, that the "planted" comment was not necessarily put there by a WQXR employee.
According to the twisted and feeble logic of WQXR's earlier reply, these comments have to stand regardless of false authorship, since they are not "offensive."
My apologies to the usurped, please call the transgression "fair use."

Nov. 05 2011 04:24 PM
Michael Meltzer

LMR, thank you for the compliment and your unerstanding. If you are correct that Ms. Ott's publicist is to blame, then he/she is responsible for my negative "review" appearing on this more conspicuous, 7-day site. UP to that point, I was content to leave it on the one-day playlist site.
A little secret, I have saved every one of my comments over the past two years, and there is not one single one, even the one-word comments, that is without punctuation. This "planted" comment was put there by an illiterate.

Nov. 05 2011 03:41 PM

Dear WQXR,

Since Mr. Meltzer disclaims ownership of the "Beautiful" comment regarding Ms. Ott's recording, and requests that you delete it (that is, delete his comment, if not the recording itself), you should abide by your own stated civility policy and delete it. I find Mr. Meltzer to be one of your most erudite commentators. In the case of Ms. Ott's playing, I am sure he is simply trying to preserve his reputation. I would not be surprised if Ms. Ott's publicist was the one who wrote the "Beautiful" comment and attributed it to Mr. Meltzer. (Sorry for the long comment.)

Nov. 05 2011 03:11 PM
Michael Meltzer

Since it is not my comment nor is it my opinion, it is misrepresentation and identity theft.
If you do not delete it I will report the incident to the FCC.

Nov. 04 2011 06:06 PM
Michael Meltzer

Please delete the single-word comment, "Beautiful," below, which bears my name but which I never made.
You need better security. At most sites, like CBS News or Major League Baseball, your blogging name and e-mail address have to be pre-registered together. If you try to post a comment with a discrepancy there, you can't post. Simple, basic, and common practice!

Nov. 04 2011 04:18 PM
Michael Meltzer

Please check the E-mail address of that
"Beautiful" comment below, against the e-mail address you know to be mine.
Someone is fooling around!

Nov. 04 2011 02:36 PM
Michael Meltzer

I do not recognize the entry below that I'm supposed to have made. I did, however, hear Ms. Ott play the op. 2 #3 in the "request hour" and I posted the following at the daily playlist site:
Alice Sara Ott's style of pianism is one I haven't heard for years, probably a benefit of the Women's Movement.
If Ms. Ott would let up a bit with the crashing and banging, we promise not to accuse her of sounding like a woman trying to play a man's music.
Nov. 04 2011 12:27 PM

Nov. 04 2011 02:29 PM

I enjoyed the clip very much. Thanks.

Nov. 02 2011 11:29 AM
Michael Meltzer

Whoever wrote in the above introduction, "Beethoven presents an interpretive lineage that shouldn't stand still," is correct, but has placed him- or herself squarely in opposition to the de facto policy of the WQXR programming department for the past two years. Your programmers have not followed that logic for ANY composer or specific work, except perhaps "Fur Elise."

Nov. 01 2011 09:45 AM

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The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.