Austrian virtuoso proves a fitting end to Utzon chamber music recitals.

Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House

November 9, 2014

Before taking up the clarinet 25-year-old Austrian virtuoso Andreas Ottensamer learnt piano and cello and the ties are still strong as this last concert in the Utzon Series showed.

Some of the pieces raided the piano repertoire and a few of them were arranged for the Berlin Philharmonic’s principal clarinet by his colleague in the orchestra, cellist Stephan Koncz.

The recital, which also featured brilliant 21-year-old Australian pianist Alex Raineri, opened with Australian composer Arthur Benjamin’s rather free but irresistible arrangement of three of Domenico Cimarosa’s keyboard sonatas into a concerto, originally for oboe then for clarinet.

If this work served to illustrate Ottensamer’s beautiful rounded tone and to show off the instrument’s singing quality, Krzysztof Penderecki’s 1959 work Three Miniatures, which predated his groundbreaking Threnody by a year, found the soloist in a different mood. His smooth and precise fingering and superb breath control made the quirky Bartokian rhythms and wild leaping passages seem simple, and Raineri proved an empathetic accompanist.

Claude Debussy’s Girl With the Flaxen Hair, arranged by Koncz, proved a delicious sorbet after this astringent fare before the Gallic charm of Francis Poulenc’s gorgeous Sonata for clarinet and piano, with its quotes from his Gloria and the swoon-worthy Romanza slow movement, closed the first half.

The second was announced with George Gershwin’s Prelude No.1, which in this arrangement, again by Koncz, sounded even more like Rhapsody In Blue than ever with its slurred, bluesy Benny Goodman jazz arpeggios.

“Welcome to the American half,” Ottensamer quipped.

Of the three other pieces on the program only one of them was truly American, Amy Marcy Beach’s Berceuse, a lovely lullaby with a folksong’s simplicity.

Blind Welsh composer Alec Templeton emigrated to the US in the 1930s because of his interest in jazz. He melded with his classical training for his “hit” Bach Goes To Town.

His Pocket-size Sonata No 2, adeptly handled by Ottensamer and Raineri, put a smile on the audience’s faces.

Viennese-born Joseph Horovitz migrated to London 1938 when Hitler under the Anschluss annexed Austria. He has written several soundtracks for film and TV, most notably the waddling bassoon theme that introduces the Rumpole series.

His Sonatina, composed for clarinetist Gervase de Peyer in 1981, brought the recital to a suitably upbeat close.

Ottensamer’s family is half–Hungarian. Father Ernst and brother Daniel are both solo clarinetists in the Vienna State Opera and Vienna Philharmonic and with Andreas they often appear as a trio called The Clarinotts.

Andreas, who charms the audience with his good looks, facial expressions and a good line in humour, is enjoying a wave of popularity. Last year he signed a deal with Deutsche Grammophon and has one album out on the yellow label.

As an encore, and to give the audience a taste of his next recording, which reflects his Hungarian side, Ottensamer performed a wild folk dance tune.

Then, an added treat and to show off his pianistic skills, he joined Raineri at the Steinway for a hilarious tango.

Ottensamer is the complete deal and this concert proved a fitting end to a magnificent series of chamber music recitals.