- Études d'exécution transcendante (12 Transcendental Etudes), for piano, S. 139 (LW A172)
Alice Sara Ott's 2008 recording of Franz Liszt's "12 Transcendental Etudes" may be the right prescription for jaded listeners who are sure they've heard all they need of this composer. To the extent that any pianist can make Liszt's music sound fresh, innovative, and interesting again, after years of mistreatment at the hands of sentimentalists and show-offs, Ott succeeds brilliantly on all three points. The sound of her playing -- from her precise articulation and clear separation of contrapuntal lines, to her enormous dynamic range and wide palette of colors -- is piquant, crisp, and clean, so there is no murkiness or ham-fisted playing to muddy up Liszt's dazzling effects. These effects can seem hopelessly clichéd in the hands of a mediocre pianist, but Ott makes them seem utterly novel and arresting by not exaggerating them, and by letting the natural timing and momentum of the music prepare for them. Because she plays with meticulous clarity and lets the music speak for itself, Ott draws attention to Liszt's abundant inventiveness and originality and reminds us that the "Transcendental Etudes" were startling and exciting when first played and that they can still captivate if executed with her extraordinary levels of musical understanding and technical accomplishment. Deutsche Grammophon's sound is exceptionally clear and sensitive to every nuance. Highly recommended.