Ólafur Arnalds and Alice Sara Ott
The Chopin Project
US: 16 Mar 2015
UK: 16 Mar 2015
Prior to the invention of the gramophone and recorded music at large, the world of classical music, as well as musical interpretation at large, was a vastly different place. Instead of worrying about or fussing over producing the most accurate exegesis of a famed composer’s musings, it was an instrumentalist’s job to handle the composition in any way that they saw fit, to invoke their own character and emotion into the proceedings and make them that much more infallible to behold. This is a truth that young BAFTA award-winning Icelandic composer and performer Ólafur Arnalds has held close to his heart for a long while, alongside a heartfelt respect for the works of Frédéric Chopin. Having always wanted to interpret Chopin’s compositions by his own trademark means, Arnalds knew that such a project would need more of an innovative gusto than just his performance, so he invited German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott to join him in the development of what would inevitably become the full-on release of The Chopin Project.
Incorporating purposefully vintage equipment along the lines of beaten, even sometimes out of tune instruments, Arnalds and Ott make for a chilling team, oftentimes sneaking in between the lines of Chopin’s original compositions to meld together a story of their own. Finding strength in fragility and something confident in the offbeat intimacy of the worn keys of a piano melding with hushed strings, a classical, yet innovative, take on Chopin’s work begins to take shape. Ott takes the reins beautifully on an unusual, old school pianos purchased solely for the development of she and Arnalds’ collaboration, coming to a head with her coarsely elegant take on “Nocturne in C Minor”, fusing together weightlessly with a string ensemble introduction in the form of “Eyes Shut”.
They perform a remarkable rendition of “Prélude in D Flat Major”, otherwise known as “Raindrop”, with an emotive, soul-bearing quality simply not seen or heard of in other recent performances of the composition, almost as if both Arnalds and Ott are mere feet away from the listener, delivering their rendition specifically for them. At times, one can hear the instrumentalists rustling through their papers, mixing in with palpable breaths and creaks of the piano and retro recording equipment that craft this illusion to become much more than simply makeshift. The deliberation that the two instrumentalists had placed into the creation of The Chopin Project being as human as it possibly could be brings a feeling of organic life to the record that simply isn’t heard of much in recording, period, any longer, let alone in a classical setting.
The Chopin Project began as a dedication to Arnalds’ grandmother, in some respects. Out of respect for her, a younger, metal-loving Arnalds would sit with her to listen to Chopin’s work whenever they had visited one another. At her deathbed, Arnalds said “she was just lying there, old and sick, but very happy and proud. And I sat with her and we listened to a Chopin sonata. Then I kissed her goodbye and left. She passed away a few hours later.” In the end, he and Ott did her, and the classical listening community at large, proud with their efforts.