A tribute to Cecile Ousset
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To anyone that knows her, the rationale behind Cecile Ousset’s decision not to continue playing in public and the manner in which she wanted to go out will not be a surprise. After some years of serious back pain that led to her having to limit the repertoire she was able to perform, removing many of the big works by Brahms, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev for example from her repertoire, she had informed us last year that she was going to end her performing career in December. She no longer enjoyed giving concerts in the same way as before mostly because she missed the stimulation of a large area of repertoire that had become an integral part of her artistic diet. With typical modesty, she wanted no announcement or fanfare, just a quiet exit. Only we, her management, and close friends were to know and her final recital, at the Wigmore Hall in London in December, proved to be one of those red-letter nights so written about in the early 80’s when she first burst onto the scene. Passion and emotion poured through her fingertips into the hall. Even those not in the know realised that something extraordinary was going on as she swaggered breathtakingly through a typical Ousset concoction of Chopin and French music.

It had never been a conventional career. Arriving on the scene like a firecracker nearly 20 years ago, curiously more than 15 years after picking up major prizes in leading international competitions, she became a favourite of leading conductors of all generations from Rattle to Masur and of the foremost artistic directors such as William Glock and John Drummond. Her many recordings going back to her award-winning Brahms 2nd with Masur in Leipzig in the late 70’s to a series of electrifying discs for EMI (3 with Rattle) will live on in the endless repackaging and compilations that are now a lifeline to the record industry. But the energy and integrity of her performances live on stage cannot be repackaged nor for that matter forgotten. Nor can her always positive character, her boundless energy and her unaffected humility, something that she might consider giving masterclasses on to some of her colleagues. After that last night at the Wigmore Hall, when tears had flowed in sometimes unexpected quarters, and toasts were being made, a realisation dawned on all of us; that we had together travelled in those 20 years a remarkable and always happy journey without there every once being a moment of irritation, criticism or frustration. A remarkable artist indeed!

by Stephen Lumsden

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