Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Hindemith: Clarinet Concerto
Schumann: Symphony No. 4
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Kirill Karabits: Conductor
Andreas Ottensamer: Clarinet
The BSO’s Artist-in-Residence scheme has added a level of interest and excitement to their programming over the last few years. Two years ago, the Korean pianist Sunwook Kim included the fiendish Rachmaninov 3rd concerto among his three performances, and he has continued his partnership with the orchestra in advising them on which new Steinway piano to buy for the Lighthouse. Last year the flamboyant Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulovic built an ecstatic fanbase among the Lighthouse regulars with his dramatic performances. Both artists return for concerts in this year’s programme, Sunwook Kim for Brahms on 3rd January and Beethoven on 2nd May, and Radulovic for the Tchaikovsky Concerto on 18th April. So this year’s Artist in Residence, clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer, has two difficult acts to follow.
Andreas Ottensamer, still only 27, comes from family of clarinettists. His father Ernst was principal clarinet in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Andreas’ elder brother Daniel took over the post from his father, and played the first Weber concerto with the BSO in April this year. Andreas himself is principal clarinet in the Berlin Philharmonic, and performed the Mozart concerto with the BSO three years ago.
In this concert, Ottensamer was giving his own debut performance of Hindemith’s concerto, which was written in the 1940s for the jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman. Having taken three years to learn it, Goodman only performed it once, which doesn’t suggest he made much of it. Ottensamer is on something of a mission to restore it to the repertoire, which isn’t exactly bursting with choices for clarinet soloists. Surprisingly, the piece is not full of show-stopping fireworks for the clarinet, and lacks a cadenza. This was an impressively coherent and collaborative performance by soloist, orchestra and conductor, serving the music rather than showcasing a star performer. Ottensamer spends a lot of his life in the heart of the Berlin Philharmonic, and we saw here a musician listening to and responding to colleagues rather than leaving them in his wake.
What followed, however, was emphatically a star vehicle. Weber’s Concertino of 1811 is high-spirited, feelgood music, and Ottensamer sailed through its finger-popping and lung-bursting difficulties with insouciant and almost comic ease. This is a man who is comfortable in but not addicted to the spotlight, and the audience were left wanting more – which they will get in January and February next year when Ottensamer returns.
There is little space left to do justice to the BSO’s and Karabits’s performances of the pieces which topped and tailed the concert, the Brahms Haydn variations and Schumann’s 4th Symphony. The Brahms was simply outstanding. With violins divided left and right on the platform, Karabits’s generally relaxed tempi gave the orchestra time to register every detail of this wonderful score with loving attention, with the woodwinds especially ear-catching. The Schumann symphony, a much more dramatic piece, showed the trust and teamwork between conductor and orchestra at its best, with the players faultlessly following Karabits’s dynamically shifting tempi in the blazing final movement.