A recital of lollipops and transcriptions by a humorously named clarinet trio: you might think you know what to expect from The Clarinotts. And yes, it’s an entertaining programme, delivered with warmth and wit. But there’s a bit more than just that going on here. Ernst Ottensamer and his sons Daniel and Andreas are principal players in the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics. They’re clarinet royalty, with a shared commitment to what they call ‘the Viennese tradition of clarinet playing’.
So begin at the beginning, with Rainer Schottstädt’s divertimento on Don Giovanni. The beauty of the trio’s sound speaks for itself: dark and chocolatey at the bottom, sweet and fluid at the top, with a wonderfully easy way of curling around an ornament and just a hint of bitterness at the louder, higher extremes. What emerges as you listen on, though, is the subtlety with which they articulate Mozart’s melodies: the naturalness of their phrasing, coupled to a sense of light and shade that clearly comes from knowing this music intimately – and understanding precisely how to make it speak.
That pays dividends in the unapologetically minor works that follow. The single-movement trio by Joseph Friedrich Hummel (no relation to Johann Nepomuk) bubbles deliciously, there’s an engaging wistfulness about Henry Ploy’s The Florist and the harmless classical clichés of Druschetzky’s eight tiny trios get the performance of a lifetime. The tougher nuts, meanwhile, are cracked with ease and considerable insight. The Clarinotts evidently relish the pungent harmonies and swirling, Mahlerian shadows of Alfred Prinz’s Scherzo fantastique and find a Beckett-like bleakness in the whispered dissonances of Edison Denisov’s Two Pieces. So don’t be misled by the packaging. There’s more than just marzipan in these Mozartkugeln.