This review of the Clarinotts album was originally published by Ozarts Review and has been republished here in honour of the great Viennese clarinettist Ernst Ottensamer who died in July 2017.
“We have totally freedom,” said Andreas Ottensamer, youngest member of The Clarinotts. “We know what our partners will do a millisecond before they do it. It’s a luxury you’ll rarely have with any other ensemble”
This incredible cohesion is what struck me on a ‘blind’ listen to the Clarinotts album; that and the uncannily similar sound quality of the three clarinettists. It made sense when I had a closer look at the performers and realised this was Ernst Ottensamer playing with his sons, the famous Viennese ‘Royal Family of the Clarinet’.
Ernst inspired a generation of clarinettists around the world, including his own children. His eldest son Daniel Ottensamer became co-principal clarinettist with the Vienna Philharmonic alongside his father, and his youngest son Andreas Ottensamer is principal clarinettist of the Berlin Philharmonic. Together the three of them formed the Clarinotts, releasing their first album appeared in 2009 and their second album in 2016. Ernst Ottensamer is being mourned around the world after dying tragically of a heart attack on 22ndJuly, aged 62. Ernst was principal clarinettist at the Wiener Phiharmonic from 1983 and founding member of the Wiener Blaserensemble and Wiener Virtuosen.
The 2016 self-titled album opens with Mendelssohn’s sparkling Concert Piece for Clarinet, Basset Horn and Orchestra No 1. The brilliant duet was composed rather appropriately for the father-son duo of Heinrich and Carl Baermann. It is full of dazzling operatic writing and I was struck by the warm, full-bodied sound of the basset horn and clarinet and the driving energy in their playing.
The album’s repertoire traces Ernst’s career trajectory including his time in the pit of the Vienna State Opera with works like the trio Soave sia il vento from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and the Fantasyon themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto by Franz and Karl Doppler. Dance works also get a look in with Rossisni’s La danza quoting from the overture to William Tell and the sentimental French-style waltz of Cantilene from Francaix’s Petit Quatuor.
Ponchielli’s Il Convegno had both sweetness and fire. Andreas and Daniel duetted with incredible precision, their virtuosic runs, flourishes and dramatic rubato perfectly synchronised.
As you would expect this is an album of great finesse and class, accompanied by none other than the Wiener Virtuosen – an ensemble made up of the section principals of the Vienna Philharmonic. They are certainly the best players for the romantic/early 20th century repertoire that dominates the first half of the album. I admit to presuming the album would remain in this romantic/early 20th century repertoire and was pleasantly surprised to find some 21st century works included at the end.
Bela Koreny’s Cinema I is based on the plot of Paul Verhoeven’s film Basic Instinct and you can feel the intrigues and the tension in Ernst’s spooky bass clarinet and the wails of Andreas and Daniel over the top, accompanied by the Wiener Virtuosen with Christoph Traxler on piano. The bossa nova tune Morning of the Carnival by Luiz bonfa was another contrast; slick and sultry.
A comment for clarinet nerds: check out the almost inaudible articulation from all three. It sounds like diaphragm articulation but it has the even attack of tonguing, generating sublimely clean playing.
The richness of this album is the synergy of three virtuosic clarinettists who really do seem to be of one mind – it sounds like one person multi-tracking! But what makes it really gripping listening is the energy and emotion the Ottensamer family bring to their music making – they really pull out all the stops in Olivier Truan’s unaccompanied trio The Chase and it’s an exhilarating conclusion to the album. Turns out it is also a fitting final bow from Ernst Ottensamer; a testimony to a life spent sharing music with excellence and passion.