Andreas Ottensamer

Brahms: The Hungarian Connection

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Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinetist of the Berlin Philharmonic, has released several innovatively programmed albums without resorting to common crossover formulas. Brahms: The Hungarian Connection is another. The title is perhaps a bit too strong in that the last part of the program does not consist of music by Brahms and, in fact, has no direct connection to Brahms. But as a recital juxtaposing Hungarian folk sounds with their ramifications in the concert repertoire, the program works well. Some may not have thought of the Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, as a Hungarian piece, but listen again to the slow movement passage where the string quartet conjures up a cimbalom. The extremely gentle performance of the quintet is worth the price of admission in itself; for a reading by an all-star group as opposed to an established ensemble, it breathes unusually well. The quartet's cellist, Stephan Koncz, arranged the rest of the music for clarinet and string quartet, and he certainly doesn't do anything an average Viennese musician might not have attempted during Brahms' lifetime. From two lightly Hungarian waltzes (one from the Op. 39 set for piano four-hands and one from the Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52), listeners move into more explicitly Hungarian material, first arranged by Brahms and then by other composers. It's an unorthodox recital structure, but it's effective, leading both to some little-known and fun pieces (the Two Movements of Hungarian composer Leó Weiner) and then to an infectious Transylvanian dance medley finale. Ottensamer's tone modulates nicely from ultra-smooth in the Brahms to peppy in the more Hungarian pieces. Recommended for Brahmsians and clarinet lovers alike.

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