This concert was presented as part of the LPO’s Isle of Noises series, a year-long celebration of over three centuries of “music in these [British] islands”, with the piece in focus being Alice Mary Smith’s arrangement of the slow movement from her Clarinet Sonata of 1873. It is music that, on this first hearing for me, conjured in Andreas Ottensamer’s exquisite playing a prayer to awakening nature: soloist asking, with orchestra responding to, for a rise from slumber. With rose-tinted hindsight of the Victorian era one can view this as a nostalgic piece, but it does have more to it, and its undemonstrative ideas make it quite beautiful, and affecting. It was gorgeously and affectionately played by all.
Ottensamer, in his debut with the LPO, offered at first a compelling account of Weber’s F-minor Clarinet Concerto, a rare piece in the concert hall and an exact contemporary of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, both 1811. Ottensamer’s was a committed performance, full of light and shade, relishing the moments as they presented themselves, coupled with well-founded and wide-ranging control of dynamics. The piece is Romantic throughout, and with added drama stoked from the first sound that Ottensamer made: a snarl through his nostrils. From then his clarinet made the sounds, his technical wizardry, in the first movement especially, blazed over the demands. Lightly glistening strings ushered the central Andante into focus, with Ottensamer making much of the solace that the clarinet part brings, with the faintest of echoes from Mozart’s example being heard. Much was serene contemplation, especially the accompaniment of the enchanting horns. The light Finale buoyed along, with flashes of virtuosic brilliance.
The hyper-sensual Overture to Wagner’s Tannhäuser opened the concert. Vladimir Jurowski presided – controlled is perhaps more apposite – over a rendition that whilst everything was there it never got quite to its flamboyant aspects. What we did have was attractive woodwind and sincere horns for the ‘Pilgrim Chorus’ theme. The trombones became irritating, too dominant, whereas those pealing string figures quickened the pulse. The central climax’s wild abandonment –triangle and cymbal clashes bursting onto the scene – was thoroughly engaging. Jonathan Davies’s bassoon solos stood out for their clarity and presence.
Following the interval, another Opus 73, Brahms’s wholly pleasurable Second Symphony. With Jurowski about to begin, his hands raised, a baby (!) let out a small cry. He paused, baby now silent, and then began a traversal of this sunlit work, the first movement’s themes after themes tossed out with insouciance, the exposition repeat welcome. Stormier, troubled-water moments – surface waves coalescing – found Jurowski at his marshalling best: his minimal direction produced electrifying results. Elsewhere he cajoled, the pizzicato-with-woodwind moment having the quality of a Ländler. The Adagio was more of deep feelings, mists clearing to a gentle scene. The Allegretto grazioso was stylish enough, but where a lot of performances lose themselves in head-long dashes in the Finale, here Jurowski’s leadership held his players, and what we had was dignity, and plenty of life, too.
During the first movement of the Weber, dear reader, your correspondent was distracted as a patron sitting in front of me decided to take a couple of photographs of the soloist using his Smartphone. He seemed somewhat perplexed that I should ask that he does not do this. I shall leave it at that.