Pictures: Musorgsky • Schubert
Alice Sara Ott’s live recording of these two works given last summer at the Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall in St Petersburg is something of a disappointment. Despite all the hype surrounding her formidable talents and the evidently enthusiastic response of the audience, these technically assured performances provide surprisingly little musical insight. The Musorgsky opens with a rather laboured account of the Promenade, rather suggesting that this particular gallery visitor’s appreciation of the ensuing pictures is going to be hampered by their wearing uncomfortable hob-nail boots. Thereafter the technical challenges posed in the ‘Market in Limoges’ and ‘Baba-Yaga’ are accurately dispatched, but Ott’s interpretations seem deficient in terms of characterisation and tonal variety. ‘The Old Castle’ is projected in a rather monochrome fashion with little sense of atmosphere, and it is difficult to discern much humour in her rendition of the ‘Ballet of the unhatched chicks’.
The Schubert Sonata is slightly more convincing. Ott achieves considerable dynamic energy in the opening Allegro vivace and brings a persuasive improvisatory feel to musical narrative in the extraordinary Con moto. At the same time, some aspects of Schubert’s writing seem to pass her by, in particular the necessity to respond more intuitively to the composer’s bold modulations and provocative juxtapositions of major and minor tonalities.