Andreas Ottensamer and Yuja Wang Open Edinburgh’s Queens Hall Concert Series

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various: Yuja Wang (piano), Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet), Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 3.8.2019. (GT)

Yuja Wang (piano) & Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet) © Stefan Höderath

Weber – Grand Duo Concertante in E flat major Op 48
– Intermezzo in A major Op 118 No 2 (arr. by Nikolay Popov)
Schubert – ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ D118/S558 No.8 (arr. by Liszt)
Mendelssohn – Songs without Words in F sharp minor Op.67 No.2; Songs without Words in F sharp minor Op.30 No.6; Songs without Words in E minor Op.102 No.1 (arr. by Andreas Ottensamer)
Debussy – Première rhapsodie
Chopin – Waltz in B minor Op 69 No 2
Joseph Horowitz – Sonatina for clarinet and piano

This opening concert at the Queens Hall marks the second visit here by Yuja Wang in three years, the last time here she played the three Brahms violin sonatas with Leonidas Kavakos, a concert which was stunning in musicality and virtuosity, and of course later appeared on her record label DG. She stunned concert goers then with her breath-taking musicianship and technical brilliance. This morning recital promised as much with the principal clarinettist of the Berlin Philharmonic Andreas Ottensamer in a mixed programme of classical and late romantic repertoire. Yuja Wang has become known for her outrageous fashion sense, yet instead of becoming a ‘fashion celebrity’, she has underlined her justified position in the international piano world by technically perfect performance and outstandingly musicality of diverse repertoire. Her partner here, Andreas Ottensamer is a world-class clarinettist who has performed with some of the finest ensembles and together with his father and brother – who both play the clarinet at the Vienna Philharmonic – Andreas plays in a clarinet trio The Clarinotts. He has also made arrangements for his instrument for many classical and modern chamber works.

In the Weber piece, Wang opened with startlingly loud chords leading to a display of concerto-like brilliance. Ottensamer’s entry was aptly musical and satisfying with colourful sonority. Their duet playing seemed just a little hesitant to begin with, however as the recital developed, there emerged real interaction between the two, rather than a dominant piano and subservient clarinet. The Andante was fittingly performed with excellent articulation and wistfully expressed ideas, and in the Rondo finale – the wonderful musical understanding between the two musicians was brought out to the maximum. In the Brahms work, the arrangement by the Russian Nikolay Popov was marvellously played bringing out all the innate romanticism of this rarely heard arrangement of this popular piece.

The late change in the programme of Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ was fitting and brilliantly performed. Wang spun the diverse textures in the melodic line from romantic reflection, to the virtuosic and dramatic close. In Ottensamer’s arrangements of three pieces from Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words) all three pieces were mellifluously performed by the two musicians who seemed to dovetail effortlessly into each other’s music making, especially in the undulating ostinato of the ‘Venetian Gondola Song’ with the melody switching between piano and clarinet seamlessly.

In the second part of the concert, we were able to hear two pieces actually composed for clarinet and piano – in Debussy’s Première rhapsodie, there was a sultry, almost seductive sonority, not without jazz inflection, with expressiveness, and some breath-taking music making. It was clear that this was not only well rehearsed but that both musicians understood each other sublimely in Debussy’s masterly creation. A late switch in the advertised programme was that instead of a polonaise, we heard Wang play a B minor waltz by Chopin, all very finely articulated, and the alternating liquidity of the melody from con anima to a major-key trio section in dolce. This was well-played piece although she seemed to lose her way towards the close, an unusual lapse by the Chinese musician.

For the final work in the programme, Wang was joined by her Austrian partner for the Vienna-born composer Joseph Horowitz’s Sonatina. This brought us into a different world, the music making here was engaging but without the genuinely exceptional themes of the rest of the recital; the first of the three movements embraced changing moods, quiet, sultry, grave and humorous. There was always sonority in playing and clarity, matched in the slow movement by the playful, though mediocre – and at times reflective – ideas, and finally the finale introduced bright sunshine with jazzy bursts of rhythm. As an encore, this highly talented pair played ‘Summertime’ by Bernstein, perhaps the best piece of the concert.

‘I just can’t stop playing’ Yuja Wang exclaimed at the close. One gets the impression that Wang loves doing what she does at the keyboard, with some other musicians there arises the feeling that we are just a part of a worldwide tour and probably they are playing a piece for the 255th time, whereas Wang gives off a spark that in every performance she is sharing the experience with her listeners in whatever the repertoire, and this makes her a vital part of the music world.

Gregor Tassie

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