The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Fond Farewells brings together two masterpieces from late in the careers of two Viennese giants – Mozart and Mahler. Mozart’s much-loved Clarinet Concerto dates from the final year of his life (1791) and is the last completed instrumental concerto before his untimely death. No doubt inspired by his friendship with virtuoso Anton Stadler who had already supplied obbligato lines for two soprano arias in La Clemenza di Tito and the piano concerto in C Minor, K.491, the work was originally envisaged for basset clarinet. However, after Stadler had lost the manuscript whilst on tour, editors set to work on three separate occasions between 1801 and 1803, rescoring the work in A for the modern clarinet.

Mark Wigglesworth. Photo © Sim Canetty-Clarke

Soloist Andreas Ottensamer comes from a distinguished dynasty of clarinettists with his father and brother also making admirable careers within the ranks of the prestigious Vienna Philharmonic. Ottensamer himself is no slouch either in becoming the equally fine Berlin Philharmonic’s chief clarinettist at the tender age of 20, and it is a position that he holds until this day. Given his experience with such a fine orchestra as well as growing in a family drenched in this music, there is little doubt that he presented the most balanced performance of this masterpiece that I’ve yet heard. His balance, sonically with the orchestra, a genuine cantabile touch and his seamless ability to leap from the lowest notes of the instrument to its highest made for a truly masterful performance. And then there was the variety of colours utilised without him resorting to any egocentricities. Add to this, Principal Guest Conductor Mark Wigglesworth’s light-handed conducting and here was a performance which was by turns, playful and kittenish or, in the adagio, touching in its simplicity.  And so at home was the soloist with the work that he often brought a jazz-like sense of improvisation to the work, turning to the orchestra when not playing to urge on his fellow musicians, bringing to bear one magisterial performance. The string playing was amongst the finest I’ve heard from this band and the supporting winds were just as fine, with both sections often reducing their sound to that of a gossamer-like wisp of breath.

If the Mozart itself was not enough, Ottensamer returned at the end of the concert with pianist Alex Raineri to play a few of his transcriptions from songs with and without words in their original castings by Mendelssohn and most appropriately, Mahler, with Ich will der welt abhanden (Rückert). And similarly to the Mozart, Mahler’s Ninth was his last completed work, finished at a time when the composer was seriously facing death due to cardiac problems. And of course, song is central to these composers’ outputs.

Although Arvo Volmer had done the necessary groundwork in preparing and presenting the orchestra’s first complete cycle of the work, things moved up a notch in intensity and commitment when Mark Wigglesworth presented a very fine account of Mahler’s Fifth (with the popular adagietto). As previously mentioned, the tone and dynamic range of the strings in the Mozart was truly a joy; however here in Mahler’s welt-symphonie they were equally fine as were the other sections of the orchestra. The Ninth is a gargantuan work, a huge concerto for orchestra and yet time did not lag at all in this interpretation; nor was it given over to excess such as the familiar Bernsteinian note-wringing. Here was a conductor who was prepared to let the score talk. All in all, yes, there was a lot to digest, but with such considerate planning and execution, here was a concert which will be talked about for some time.


Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Fond Farewells has one more performance, May 10 

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