Austria has a long history of grand Musikerfamilien: families, or rather dynasties, that have been on the musical stages of Vienna for generations; families whose names keep appearing among the members of the Wiener Philharmoniker and are even known to people outside the Musikverein. In its second – and very successful – generation is the Ottensamer family. Though he followed his father’s and older brother’s – both principal clarinettists in Vienna – philharmonic footsteps with his engagement in Berlin, Andreas Ottensamer ushers in a “New Era” of virtuosic clarinet playing for good.

Andreas Ottensamer © Lars Borges
Andreas Ottensamer
© Lars Borges

Ottensamer shared the stage at Wigmore Hall with pianist José Gallardo and together they took it by storm with the erupting scalar passages in the first movement of Weber’s Grand Duo Concertant. In this recital the piano was an equal partner to the clarinet and the two friends – Ottensamer and Gallardo have been working together intensively in recent years – were perfectly attuned (Ottensamer even blew water out of a key in the rhythm of the piano part at one point). They presented the Allegro con fuoco as an dialogue, exchanging looks, answering each other’s phrases. The wonderfully played ritenuti in the Andante con moto set a lovely melancholic mood and let Ottensamer reveal the impressive range of his Viennese clarinet – warm, dark and rich in the low tones, tender and never shrill in the high ones. After the recitativo section of the Rondo, Gallardo and Ottensamer savoured a short pause, shared a smile and visibly enjoyed mastering the closing scales and arpeggios.

After a quick introduction to the programme, Ottensamer mentioned that Gallardo wanted to play the Grand Duo at the beginning, because “everything that comes after is easy”. This is certainly true considering the technical difficulties, yet, it is also a difficult piece to follow. Ottensamer showed his velvet and mellifluous tone, but the Adagio from Heinrich Baermann’s Clarinet Quintet no. 3 in E flat major missed the fine dynamic shading of Weber’s Andante and almost felt like a (much needed) musical breather after such a breathtaking opener.

Ottensamer proved a convincing and persuasive Don Giovanni in Beethoven’s Variations on Là ci darem la mano. With his frisky playing he certainly enjoyed himself in the role of the seducer and hidden persuader, dancing around the stage and physically showing Zerlina an escape route from her wedding by pointing his clarinet away from the stage. Gallardo expressed Zerlina’s hesitations not only through his properly chary playing, but also through the looks he exchanged with his recital partner, asking, wondering, but eventually ready to elope with him – and so were many members of the audience!

For Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, one of his Rückert Lieder, Mahler sets up a melancholic and emotional mood that both players wonderfully captured. It speaks of an artist withdrawn from the world. While Ottensamer’s singing clarinet tone easily took over the vocal part as well as the distinctive horn and cor anglais themes, Gallardo accompanied tenderly. In the poem of the Rheinlegendchen, the narrator imagines throwing a golden ring into the Rhine, which will then be swallowed by a fish and served to the king. The narrator’s sweetheart will identify the ring and carry it back to her lover. Ottensamer’s confident portrayal of the somewhat naïve narrator left no doubt that his sweetheart would, in fact, return with the ring.

The programme continued with another “stolen” work from the non-clarinet repertoire, Domenico Cimarosa's Oboe Concerto in C major, whose arrangement for clarinet by Arthur Benjamin Ottensamer had recorded for his first solo album “Portraits”. It was the second grand concert of the evening and, again, it had a bit of a hard time following the Weber-Duo. The technical passages of the Allegros didn’t feel as natural and light-footed and the Siciliana missed some of the wonderful tension and fine nuanced dynamic of the evening’s first Andante.

While Gallardo was mischievously brilliant in Luigi Bassi’s Concert Fantasia on Themes from Verdi's Rigoletto, Ottensamer showed some unusual inaccuracies in the beginning, but soon found his way back to old strengths. Bassi picks various arias from the opera rather than telling the plot with his score and the duo captured the different moods and sets superbly. Their interpretation of “Caro nome” was truly magnificent.

Yet, the highlight of the second half was one of Brahms’ most famous Lieder, Wie Melodien zieht es mir. Ottensamer showed a moving intensity and soft lyrical cantilena. If you closed your eyes – like Ottensamer – you could almost feel the flowery melody wafting away like fragrance, as if he waited for his clarinet to produce the tender, whispering sound itself, which in the end “schwindet wie ein Hauch” (“disappears like a breath”).