WEBER Clarinet Concerto (Ottensamer)
The title ‘Blue Hour’ is meant to convey that post-sunset glow before nightfall and might well conjure up a mood of relaxation and intimacy. If so, the arrangements of late Brahms for clarinet and piano on Andreas Ottensamer’s programme fit the bill. But with two Weber works – the First Clarinet Concerto and the Grand Duo concertant – as its focus, and scattered with arrangements of Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, perhaps the thrust of this new release should be the clarinet as human voice.
The second movement of Weber’s concerto certainly has the quality of an operatic aria here, Ottensamer pouring liquid gold into the bel canto phrases, interjected with more declamatory passages of recitative. Ottensamer comes from a great Viennese clarinet dynasty and his late father, Ernst, had a leaner but sweeter tone quality, his tempos more relaxed. The outer movements are purposeful, Ottensamer rock-solid but rather lacking in character, especially placed alongside the inimitable Martin Fröst (BIS), who displays far more humour in the cheeky Rondo. The weighty Berlin Philharmonic sound also cannot compete with the Sturm und Drang punch delivered by the Tapiola Sinfonietta for Fröst. But Ottensamer is preferable to the turbocharged sound of his Berlin Phil predecessor Sabine Meyer, recorded with the Staatskapelle Dresden.
Ottensamer’s partner for the rest of the disc is pianist Yuja Wang and the two enjoy a lively dialogue in Weber’s Grand Duo. They spur each other on in the Allegro con fuoco first movement, while the central movement takes on the mood of a melancholy canzonetta, the clarinet almost sobbing its response before the carefree Rondo rattles along to close.
The Mendelssohn and Brahms numbers (all but one in arrangements by Ottensamer himself) make for pleasant listening. It’s here, with both players spinning out the melodic lines luxuriantly and breathing as one, that you sense the late-night mood the ‘Blue Hour’ title promises.