Review: Clarinet Portraits / Andreas Ottensamer / Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

Andreas Ottensamer‘s new Clarinet Portraits album is a canningly put together collection of classic clarinet reportoire combined with enteraining arrangements of popular classics. Expect to see the clarinettist popping up everywhere.

Mercury Classics/Deutsche Grammophon will need to take care with how Ottensamer’s reputation is cultivated. They are gingerly treading the line with the present album cover for example, depicting the breathtakingly handsome clarinettist which could easily confuse the average passer-by into thinking he’s a model selling perfume or expensive watches. Some might consequently dismiss him as a crossover artist.

Andreas finally decides to wait for the AA after several unsuccessful attempts at fixing his fan belt with a clarinet.
Andreas awaits the AA after several unsuccessful attempts to fix his fan belt with a clarinet.

His pedigree as principal clarinet with the Berlin Phil, as well his former life as professional cellist and origins from acommplished musical stock will go some way to offset offset the risk of him perceived by the cynics as a ‘himbo’. Ultimately, it will be his playing which seals the deal, which is by the way absolutely stunning.

Arranged as a concert recital really ought to be, Ottensamer leads with an all-too brief but rich arrangement of a Gershwin classic in what amounts to the musical equivalent of the small, salty and incredibly moreish nibbly bits that get handed out at posh press launches. (We could have a lot more of this kind of thing Mr Ottensamer please.)

The gentle Spohr concerto concludes the album after the obligatory arrangement of Debussy’s Girl with the Flaxen Hair (to please the masses), but it is the modest concerto for clarinet by Aaron Copland (tracks 2 & 3 in the Spotify player embedded below) which really sees Ottensamer shine. A paired-down string accompaniment with mercilessly less of the reverb some producers over the past twenty years have insisted upon, makes for a sophisticated intimacy during the mournful opening.

The cadenza demonstrates Ottensamer’s mastery of the instrument, injecting a questioning, insistent and an exuberant personality into the solo sequence. Come the second ‘rather fast‘ movement the carefully scored harp, piano and semiquaver strings also benefits from the same attention to production detail making this reading of Copland’s light work fresh and vital.

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