Following on from his magisterial performances of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, local audiences were given the added bonus of hearing Andreas Ottensamer in recital with pianist Alex Raineri. Presented at UKARIA Cultural Centre by Recitals Australia, it was a performance which showed this great wind player to great effect in tandem with a pianist who is fast becoming one of this country’s finest. In terms of programming, pundits couldn’t have asked for a better selection with the first half given over to the Romantic period (Weber, Brahms and Mendelssohn), whilst the second brought together Debussy, Gershwin and Horovitz.
Andreas Ottensamer. Photo © Stefan Höderath
Both musicians displayed absolute mastery of their instruments and this wide-ranging repertoire with Ottensamer displaying flawless technique and a virtually limitless palette of colour. Rainieri proved to be his ideal partner in this venture – seeming at times to breathe as one with him and proving equally adept in both the Romantic and twentieth century repertoire.
Commencing with the undervalued Weber’s highly virtuosic Grand Duo Concertant, one wonders just why the composer has remained such a well-kept secret. Almost operatic in its scale and sense of grandeur, with long cantabile lines for the wind player, the work is also especially demanding for the pianist. This is material which pre-empts Liszt in its complexity with its fast and furiously hammered left hand and yet it was dashed off with breathtaking brio by Raineri. From here it was to Brahms and one of the late intermezzi (Op. 118, No 2), transcribed for clarinet and piano by Nicolai Popov. The effect was almost textural, if not sensual, being well aided by the crispness of Ukaria’s warm acoustics. This section of the recital finished with a brace of Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words) by Mendelssohn. Long dismissed as ‘mere salon music’, these atmospheric pieces, here transcribed by Ottensamer himself, prove to be an ideal vehicle for the clarinet with its voice-like legato. At times you could hear suggestions of Chopin’s heady nocturnes. This section also provided the ideal introduction to his latest release on Deutsche Grammophon.
After interval things were launched with a highly atmospheric account of Debussy’s Première rhapsodie. Originally composed for a competition, this almost perfumed, fin de siècle work worked so well for the instrument that Debussy decided to write an orchestral setting for it. Covering similar ground to the familiar Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, the Rhapsodie certainly deserves a wider audience. Next, to the US and Gershwin’s Three Preludes. These are possibly my favourite pieces in this composer’s catalogue. And the second one, the greatest concert-hall appropriation of the blues, is, like the adagio in Ravel’s Piano Concerto when played at its best like here, is one of those rare occasions where time seems to stand still.
Joseph Horovitz is a British composer who had relocated in the late 30s after the Anschluss, and after further study at Oxford and Paris, became an academic at the prestigious Royal College of Music. His Sonatina for clarinet and piano was written in the early 1980s for the talented Gervase de Peyer. With its playful, kittenish character, this light-hearted and witty work shows quite strong influences of Frenchmen Francis Poulenc and Jean Francaix. Both musicians caught that wayward ‘mouse running in a wheel’ nonchalance exquisitely. I guess I’ve found a new composer to investigate.