This CD arrived like a sunny day after a wet week. What at first might seem like the weirdest couple since Solomon and Piatigorsky in Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, in fact, works an absolute treat. Clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer, with Jonas Kaufmann and Daniil Trifonov, must surely be one of the most charismatic male artists in the world, both personally and musically. His playing not only conveys consummate virtuosity but a sense of fun and exhilaration. As Principal Clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, appointed at 20, one would expect nothing less. Ottensamer’s prominent solo career is somewhat ironic, given the furore surrounding Sabine Meyer’s provisional appointment in 1984, driven by Karajan, but opposed by fellow woodwind players because of her ‘soloistic’ playing style.

The other revelation is Yuja Wang’s contribution: I remarked last month about the apparent abandonment of her usual turbocharged approach in a poetically restrained rendition of Prokofiev’s Eighth Piano Sonata and here she echoes Ottensamer’s gorgeous playing note for note, from the gamut of wistful and whimsical moods of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, created for clarinet and piano by Ottensamer, to the ethereal beauty of a transcription of one of Brahms’ greatest songs Wie Melodien zieht es mir, barely translatable in English but a rumination on the similarity between a haunting melody and the evanescent scent of a flower. In this and Popov’s arrangement of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A, the second of the Op. 118 Piano Pieces and, to my mind, the most sublime of all his exquisite late keyboard pieces.

The other works on the CD are a complete contrast: in Weber’s F Minor Clarinet Concerto, with the Berlin Philharmonic and Mariss Jansons, no less, and the Grand Duo Concertante (tossed off with wonderful insouciance) Ottensamer discreetly displays such masterful dynamic control of every nuance without ever appearing to micro-manage. My only complaint is the naff title of the CD: The Blue Hour. It sounds like a cocktail in a low-end bar.

Composer: Weber, Brahms, Mendelssohn
Performer: Andreas Ottensamer cl, Yuja Wang p, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
Catalogue Number: DG 4836069

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