Review: SSO and Ottensamer are Good Sports (despite SMM restrictions) | The Flying Inkpot
Sporting the Clarinet
Dvořák Serenade for Strings
Brahms Selections from Clarinet Sonata No. 1 (arr. P. Cueto for clarinet and strings)
Mendelssohn Songs Without Words, arr. Ottensamer
Op.67, No.5 Moderato
Op.19, No.6 Andante sostenuto, ‘Venezianisches Gondellied’
Op.102, No.5 Allegro vivace
Prokofiev Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25 “Classical”
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Lorenzo Viotti, conductor
Andreas Ottensamer, clarinet
Esplanade Concert Hall
9 Dec 2021
Review by Derek Lim
It’s December and shoppers are thronging the malls, the faithful are allowed to go to churches, and restaurants are full of patrons, masks off. Yet in the concert halls, safe management measures – otherwise known as SMMs – mean that the number of musicians on stage (and backstage) is limited, regardless of mask, ART or vaccination status.
It’s a recurring story that has afflicted the performances of many Singapore orchestras this year. Most notably, the only professional symphony orchestra – the SSO – has had to make trade-offs to keep playing, even as more artistes such as tonight’s Swiss guest conductor, Lorenzo Viotti, and Berlin Philharmonic principal clarinet, Andreas Ottensamer, are being allowed to come into Singapore.
This trade-off was most apparent in the opening Dvořák Serenade for Strings, which was presented in a minimal string configuration (6 violin I, 5 violin II, 4 viola, 3 cellos, 2 double basses) because of SMM restrictions, in an unusually lyrical, introverted reading.
With so few strings, each instrument could be heard instead of a blend, and especially in the opening movement, the ensemble struggled to achieve a string bloom despite their best efforts.
Viotti favoured a ‘straight’ reading throughout, but with greatest detriment in the Waltz, which had little inflection – even in the Trio where more energy is expected. The scherzo finally brought some much-needed brilliance to the performance.
In the finale, the performance once again suffered from the lack of string numbers, with the ensemble unable to deliver the dynamic impact needed. For me, it was the fourth movement Larghetto that was the highlight – bringing beauty and repose, with luminous phrasing in the long violin line.
Many in the audience were here for Austrian clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer and he did not disappoint. Dressed in a dapper maroon-brown suit, he was supposed to have played the full Brahms Clarinet Sonata No. 1, with the piano part arranged for strings by Cueto, but because of ‘technical issues’ only the second and third movements were presented.
With the strings outnumbering the solo clarinet, the balance of numbers went the other way here. Ottensamer’s focused but slender clarinet was frequently swamped, especially when he was playing his beautiful pianissimo high notes, where ideally you’d like to be able to hear the soloist weaving among the strings.
His own arrangements of three Mendelssohn Songs without Words were far more successful. Nicely orchestrated, he was most at home here, with expressive, warm playing in the Op.67 No.5 Moderato, light melancholy in the Venezianisches Gondellied’, and nifty, sparkling virtuoso work in the Op. 102, No.5.
If Lorenzo Viotti’s conducting had up till now been low-key, the opposite could be said of the Prokofiev youthful ‘Classical’ Symphony – a cheerily unironic reading of the music which he led energetically. The string section could once again have been larger, but they played confidently and with much colour, especially in the Larghetto’s exposed stratospheric violin parts and the strutting Gavotte (later used in Romeo and Juliet), with the bubbly winds and brass making their mark at every turn in a rhythmically assured performance. The warm applause and cheers of approval from the audience after the hijinks of the last movement were thoroughly deserved.