MOZART: Clarinet Concerto
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7
A PROBABLY apocryphal story tells of how the conductor Otto Klemperer was once asked who he thought was the greatest composer. “Beethoven, without doubt”, he replied. Struck by the speed of his answer, his questioner replied “Might you not have considered Mozart?” “Oh, I thought you meant of everyone else!”
Andreas Ottensamer’s performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto had many moments which led one to sympathise this certainty. The 25-year-old principal clarinettist of the Berlin Philharmonic is something of a prodigy. Tall, and with film-star looks, he is a mobile presence on the platform, and his playing has a striking command of the extremes of the dynamic range. He produced a pure and beautiful tone even when playing pianissimo in the adagio second movement. This was playing that took technique for granted in the pursuit of musical communication rather than flouted it for its own sake. Karabits’s accompaniment was, as ever, sympathetic and sensitive.
Numbers on the platform more than doubled after the interval as massed ranks of musicians gathered to set out on the mountainous sonic landscapes of Bruckner’s awe-inspiring 7th Symphony. Bruckner is most definitely a ‘Marmite’ composer, arousing passionate defence from his admirers and equally passionate contempt from his detractors. The present writer is firmly in the former camp, and I was very pleased when the BSO remedied their long neglect of him with a passionate performance of the 9th Symphony under Karabits in March of this year.
Now after no Bruckner symphonies for years, along comes a second barely sixth months later. The 7th has always been one of the most popular, and it was the one which led to Bruckner achieving sustained success and popularity for the first time at the age of 60. Karabits held the massive 65-minute structure together superbly: Bruckner performances can sound episodic and fragmentary in the hands of lesser conductors. The BSO’s playing was magnificent, with the greatly-augmented string sections cohering to produce a seamless wash of sound which matched the bold and resonant playing of the brass, with lead trumpeter Chris Avison staring in many exposed solo passages.
In their first two concerts of the season, the BSO have got off to a wonderful start in a wide range of repertoire. Their partnership with Karabits has matured over the last five years and is now in its prime: freshly crowned as “The World’s Favourite Orchestra”, readers are advised to snap up any chance to hear them.