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Nightfall, the title of Alice Sara Ott’s new album celebrating her 10 years with DG, is accompanied by a personal and fascinating essay. Here she tells of music by Paris-based composers who cumulatively but in radically different ways blurred the distinction between light and darkness, fear and happiness and, ultimately, life and death.

Opening with Debussy’s Rêverie and Suite bergamasque, both products of the composer’s early, evanescent magic, Ott is poised and with a sense of occasion in the former, witty and affectionate in the latter. Debussy may have resented the publication of Rêverie so soon after La Mer (among his greatest masterpieces) but it has always retained the affection of his less critical listeners.

Some self-conscious inflections may mar Ott’s way with the ‘Menuet’ from the Suite bergamasque, but her ‘Passepied’ is full of dancing lightness, a counter to the silvery dream-world of ‘Clair de lune’. Here, her treble rides high above a brightly animated, chattering bass line before she continues, with the oasis of calm and mystery of Satie’s three Gnossiennes.

In extreme contrast these are followed by Ravel’s ferocious and subtle demands in his Gaspard de la nuit. Daringly true to the composer’s très lent in ‘Le Gibet’ she avoids self-defeat by her unwavering focus and concentration, creating an eerie atmosphere of desolation. Her ‘Scarbo’ is precise rather than frenzied. Admirably free from vague approximation (compare Gieseking) it misses the lightening and thrilling reflexes of a Pogorelich, Thibaudet or Gavrilov. Finally Ott returns us to her opening calm, playing Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte with a haunting sense of dignity and beauty. DG’s sound is superb and their promotion includes no fewer than six pictures of their very photogenic pianist.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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