review

Blue Hour – Weber, Brahms and Mendelssohn: CD

This review was published on: July 27th 2019
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Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet) Yuja Wang (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Mariss Jansons (conductor)
Deutche Grammophon

This new release from the Austrian clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer continues in the vein of his other recent work: serious playing with a nod to the marketing language of ‘relaxing classics’. Some might find this an uncomfortable approach, though this latest disc certainly features some impressive performances.

One of the Berlin Philharmonic’s two job-sharing principal clarinettists, Ottensamer seems to spend much of his time either away on solo tours or in the recording studio. This makes for an interesting comparison with Sabine Mayer, the pioneering first female principal clarinettist of the Berlin Phil, who was voted out of the orchestra at the end of her probation period – apparently for playing too much like a soloist, but gender discrimination was probably the real reason. Fast forward 35 years and one of the orchestra’s current principals is so much like a soloist that he is often to be found playing in front of orchestras rather than in them. One can’t help noticing that while Ottensamer clearly has his cake and is busy eating it, a female clarinettist is yet to be permanently appointed to Germany’s leading orchestra.

The record’s title, Blue Hour, seems questionable. The disc is a compilation of contrasting music by Weber, Brahms and Mendelssohn, the latter two represented by arrangements rather than original works. Perhaps we are supposed to accept that this is a melancholic selection, or maybe the reference is to the muted quality of Ottensamer’s tone. The comparison with Meyer is again relevant here. Both Ottensamer and Meyer are exponents of the German system clarinet, which to British ears may sound particularly focused or delicate. But where Meyer’s colours encompass a sensuous dolce through to a vibrant forte, Ottensamer’s sound is rather more homogenised, prioritising absolute evenness over variety.

Some highly skilled musicianship is featured on this disc, from the playful phrasing in Weber’s first concerto to Ottensamer’s tight synchronisation with pianist Yuja Wang. Clarinettists on the hunt for new repertoire might enjoy the arrangement of No 2 from Brahms’s Six Piano Pieces (Op 118) or Ottensamer’s own arrangements of various Lieder ohne Worte by Mendelssohn. Few are likely to complain about the quality of the performances here, with Weber’s Grand Duo Concertant in particular showcasing Ottensamer’s immaculate technique. But, overall, Blue Hour left me slightly cold – though I recommend judging it for yourself.

Chris Walters

 

Andreas Ottensamer

 

(clarinet)

 

Yuja Wang (piano)

 

Berlin Philharmonic

 

Orchestra

 

Mariss Jansons (conductor)

 

Deutche Grammophon

 

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) cassgb.org. Tel: 01642 769 558

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