'Nightfall' Beckons Listeners With Hypnotic Melodies | Texas Public Radio

'Nightfall' Beckons Listeners With Hypnotic Melodies

Sep 20, 2018

Pianist Alice Sara Ott's new album is "Nightfall."
Credit ©Esther Haase / DG

On her previous album, “Wonderland,” Alice Sara Ott explored the music and myths of Edvard Grieg and his native Norway. Now “Nightfall,” which Ott calls “one of the most personal recordings” she has made, gathers music by three composers who lived and worked in France. Ott writes of the album’s title, “Nightfall is that magical hour when day and night face each other and the sky descends into twilight. For a brief moment, light and darkness are in harmony and merge together.” The album reflects as much, reveling in mystery, magic, and contemplation, even with a monster of a piece like Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” on the program.

The album opens with Claude Debussy’s dreamy “Reverie,” followed by the “Suite Bergamasque.” As on “Wonderland,” Ott takes the tempo a little faster than I’m normally used to, but here I liked it on “Clair de Lune” and especially the final “Bergamasque” movement, “Passepied.” The dance-like rhythms almost feel Latin when Ott’s playing. I wanted to shake my hips.

Satie’s music is next, and for the program, Ott chose the first “Gymnopedie,” as well as two of Satie’s most questioning “Gnossiennes,” numbers one and three. Similar in mood and structure, they complement one another nicely and beckon the listener in with their hypnotic, spiraling melodies.

Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” is handled with equal amounts of technical brilliance and grace. Ott found herself in a similar place as Ravel while recording. When writing “Gaspard,” Ravel’s father suffered a stroke; just a month before she entered the studio, Ott’s father had a life-threatening heart attack, and she was deep in “darkness,” as she says, when recording the release.

“Nightfall” ends with Maurice Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess.” Ott doesn’t hide it under too-soft dynamics that lose the melody. It’s a lovely denouement for a terrific collection of contemplative, dreamy, and occasionally playful, twilight music.