I was impressed with the whimsicality Alice Sara Ott displayed in early Beethoven on a disc I reviewed last year, so I was surprised by her ponderous approach to Pictures from an Exhibition. Several of Mussorgsky’s impressions of his artist friend Hartmann’s work have a scherzando quality: the children playing at the Tuileries garden, the bustling market place at Limoges, and of course the ballet of the unhatched chicks. Ott’s pianism is meticulous and well prepared however some careful tempos and overemphatic dynamics rob her performance of character. She stretches out The Great Gate at Kiev considerably and, generally speaking, she fails to treat these pictures with enough visual imagination.
As this is a live performance from the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg it is quite possible that Ott needed to project and underline the music more than she would in a recording studio. Even so, it’s bad luck for her that a performance by Stephen Osbourne recently appeared on Hyperion that supplies some of the telling detail and subtlety that Ott misses, and I would recommend his in preference to this one.
The unusual coupling of Schubert’s Piano Sonata Op 53 is more successful. Here Ott’s poise is an asset, and while she errs slightly on the side of reverence she is very much at home in Schubert’s world. This time the light touch I remember brings a charming delicacy to the music, notably in the closing Rondo. A mixed bag.