Ottensamer and Kelemen Quartet Treat Edinburgh to Mozart and Brahms

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2016 (6) – Mozart, Brahms: Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet), Kelemen Quartet, Queen’s Hall, 16.8.2016. (SRT)

Andreas Ottensamer © Lars Borges
Andreas Ottensamer © Lars Borges

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet

Brahms: Clarinet Quintet

Andreas Ottensamer earns most of his crust as the principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, but he has recently started a solo and chamber career (including this disc).  This fantastic recital marks the Edinburgh International Festival debut for both him and the Kelemen Quartet.  On the strength of this morning, I hope they’re back for more soon.

You often get these two clarinet quintets paired on a CD, but not so often in concert, so this recital made for a wonderful treat.  All five musicians created a sound of enormous beauty, something to wallow in, but very differently coloured for each work.

It seems impossible to read anything about Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet without coming across the word “autumnal”, and that sense of nostalgia was there in this morning’s performance; but they always resisted the temptation to over-egg it: their oh-so-mellow sound constantly quivered on the verge of melancholy without ever quite spilling over into it.  That level of shading is the true hallmark of both style and experience.

Ottensamer himself makes a remarkable soloist.  He isn’t afraid to shade down his clarinet to a genuine pianissimo in places, such as the eventual return of the main theme in both the first and second movements of the Mozart, where it became a delicate whisper, full of longing.  He is merely the first among equals, however, and quartet partners produced deliciously blended sound, emanating upwards from the rich, chocolaty cello of László Fenyő, who wasn’t above putting in a cheeky ornamentation from time to time.

The melancholic sound world of Mozart was left far behind for the Brahms Quintet, however.  This was a world of swirling Romantic grandeur, suggesting forces far greater than a mere five musicians, with an opening Allegro of real power.  There followed an Adagio of almost unbearable sweetness, Ottensamer spinning out long spans of melody (when did he breathe?!) with a singer’s mentality.  The clarinet then seemed to stalk the troubled central section of the movement like some sort of threatening force, before turning on a pinhead into something of consoling beauty.  The Andantino was by turns agitated and lyrical, and the variations of the finale seemed to attain tectonic levels of grandeur, with astonishing colour in the cello-led first variation and the viola-led second.  The ending, as the clarinet wound slowly down and the strings sang out two chords which suggested resolution but hinted at a whole world of unresolved pain, was heartstopping.  They then tossed off as a dazzling encore Léo Weiner’s Hungarian Barndance, from his CD, of course.  World class.

Simon Thompson

This concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and can be heard again here.

The 2016 Edinburgh International Festival runs until Monday 29th August at venues across the city.  For full details go to

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