Portraits, the debut album by Andreas Ottensamer, proves a cause for celebration. The 24-year-old Austrian, principal clarinettist of the Berliner Philharmoniker, has won prizes in competitions for cello and piano as well as clarinet and has performed as a soloist and chamber musician throughout the world to much acclaim. Outside the classical sphere, Ottensamer is doubtless best known for his work with Tori Amos on her awesome Night of Hunters project, where his great contributions to almost all the tracks (including the celestial duet instrumental “Seven Sisters”) were among the elements of the album that helped to coax the latent classical musical enthusiast out of many a hardcore pop/rock fan.
Ottensamer might just continue to do the same with his clarinet album Portraits. Overseen by Alexander Buhr, exec producer of Amos’s opus, Portraits comprises a similarly wide range of material, combining concertos by Cimarosa, Spohr and Copland with shorter pieces by Gershwin, Debussy and Beach. That the diverse mix of material sounds not only coherent but also complementary is due to the dynamism and expressive range of Ottensamer’s playing - now gliding, dancing, shivering and bursting across the material - a seamless amalgam of feeling and technique. Clearly, he’s a risk-taker, not afraid to experiment with fresh arrangements (which come courtesy, here, of his Berliner Philharmoniker cohort Stephan Koncz) or to go beyond the standard repertoire. Sympathetically accompanied by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Ottensamer opens the set with a Latin jazz-edging take on Gershwin’s 1926 First Prelude for piano which serves as an appropriate introduction to a wonderfully rich and fluid rendering of Copland’s Benny Goodman-commissioned 1950 Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra with Harp and Piano. The other two Concertos – with the playful Cimarosa at the centre and the powerful, intensely lyrical Spohr to close – are equally fine, while Debussy’s La Fille aux cheveux de lin and Beach’s 1898 Berceuse provide exquisite complements that effectively augment the drama and beauty of the longer pieces.
Coupled with his versatility and talent, Ottensamer’s model good looks (made the most of in the album’s glossy Il Divo-ish cover and liner art) suggest that major stardom could well be in his future. Portraits adds up to a thoroughly compelling debut.