Alice Sara Ott Plays Liszt

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Of all Liszt's piano works, the 12 Transcendental Etudes are among the most exhausting and most finger-tangling. Few pianists have even recorded the complete etudes, and hardly any would consider these “starter pieces” for a relatively young career. Nevertheless, Alice Sara Ott, a pianist born in Munich in 1988 of German and Japanese parentage, treads fearlessly into these pieces for her second album for the Deutsche Grammophon label. It's this week's Full Rotation.

Liszt began composing the Transcendental Etudes in 1824, at 13, and they were published two years later. The pieces were reworked twice, and the final 1851 version is the most commonly heard today. As the title suggests, they pushed harmony, musical structure and the piano itself into transcendental realms.

The etudes demand a complete arsenal of technical effects, from massive thickets of chords to the most intricate (and often, physically implausible) fingerings. What confounds many artists is not simply the etudes' technical challenges, but how they swing from one mood to the next. Moving from, say, the madly galloping Mazeppa to the poetic Paysage requires a pianist whose mind can keep pace with his or her fingers. Ott not only displays the requisite technique and energy but also the right degree of clarity and restraint.

There have been other pianists who have arguably mined greater depths in this music–-Russell Sherman and Claudio Arrau are two that come to mind--but Ott shows much promise in her still young career.

Alice Sara Ott

Liszt: Transcendental Etudes

Deutsche Grammophon

Available at

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Comments [3]

shadeed ahmad from New York, New York

WQXR, thank you for exercising the openness of critique that will give youths involved in classical music hope of being recognized.

With classical music being overwhelmed by other genres of music when it comes to garnering the attention of youths, WQXR has taken the bold step of highlighting Ms. Alice Sara Ott's bid for creating beautiful and challenging music for all open minded listeners, regardless of age.

The Transcendental Etudes being played by a youth with such promise as Ms. Ott has is clear evidence that there is an undeniable movement to keep classical music's future fresh, lasting and beautiful.

Profound salutations to Ms. Alice Sara Ott and WQXR. Sincerely, Shadeed R. Ahmad (7-8-10)

Jul. 08 2010 11:47 AM
Michael Meltzer

Wiki indicates that Ms. Ott has recorded the Chopin Walltzes.
The Transcendental Etudes, being of extreme technical difficulty, provide a much too frequent kind of springboard for journalistic hype, as above. Chopin Waltzes, however, really tell us much, much more of what we really want to know about an artist, whether we want to explore repertoire with them in the future or even take a chance on their CD's without hearing them first.
WQXR would do MS. Ott a favor by letting us hear the Waltzes.

Jul. 07 2010 06:08 AM
Michael Meltzer

Are there so few CD's being issued that there is nothing less vacuous as to content that WQXR could choose for its "Album of the Week?"
Are these choices made in the interest of the edification and enjoyment of the listening public, or in answer to pressure on WQXR from the Artist Management and Recording industries?

Jul. 06 2010 08:04 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.