Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Serenade No. 1 in A minor for Clarinet, French Horn, Three Violins and Viola H 217 (1932) [7:07]
Quartet for Clarinet, French Horn, Cello and Side-Drum in C major H 139 (1924) [13:47]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Serenata in vano for Clarinet, Bassoon, French Horn, Cello and Double Bass (1914) [7:30]
Canto serioso for French Horn and Piano (1913) (arr. for French Horn, Violin, Two Violas, Cello and Double Bass by Miloš Bok) [4:40]
Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Les Confidences d’un Jouer de Clarinette, Op. 141 (1934) [23:26]
Luciano BERIO (1925-2003)
Musica Leggera (1974) (arr. for Clarinet, French Horn, Cello and Tambourine) [2:20]
Radek Baborāk (French horn); Wenzel Fuchs (clarinet); Baborāk Ensemble
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, 9-12 November 2008
SUPRAPHON SU3998-2 [59:34]

This program features the horn and clarinet in music that with the exception of the two Nielsen works is not at all that familiar - at least not to me.

The Czech hornist Radek Baborāk is one of two principal horns with the Berlin Philharmonic. The Austrian clarinetist Wenzel Fuchs has also been a member of the orchestra since 1993. The Baborāk Ensemble has been active since 2001, though this is the first time I have heard them.

The music on this disc is for the most part in a light vein and the selections are all rather short, not to say insubstantial. The disc’s centerpiece is the music Koechlin composed for the soundtrack of a film, Les Confidences d’un Jouer de Clarinette that was never produced. It was based on a novella by Erckmann and Chatrian. The story concerned a disappointed love affair and musical friendship, and the score, originally intended for small orchestra, was completed and published in 1981 by the composer’s biographer, Pierre Renaudin. It consists of 18 very brief movements, 14 of which feature horn and/or clarinet and which are recorded on this disc. While the music lasts more than 23 minutes, the longest movement is under 3 minutes! Some are for solo clarinet and others for clarinet and horn duet; there even four movements for hunting horns and one for clarinet, viola and cello. The most enjoyable, and substantial, in my opinion are the six movements scored for clarinet and horn duet. Baborāk and Fuchs perform these with ease and warmth that belies any technical difficulties. The appearances of the hunting horns are suitably raucous, if ultimately forgettable.

Preceding the Koechlin are Martinů’s Serenade and Nielsen’s Serenata in vano; following Koechlin are Nielsen’s Canto serioso and Martinů’s Quartet for Clarinet, Horn, Cello and Side Drum. The disc ends with an encore, Luciano Berio’s Musica Leggera. The Nielsen works are probably the most familiar music on the disc. The Serenata in vano is a minor masterpiece and receives a fluent performance here. Baborāk’s tone is very mellow and his use of vibrato is typically Eastern European. Fuchs balances well with his warm sound and supple playing, as he also does in the other works. I really liked this account of the Serenata, even if a Nordic one such as that by the Bergen Wind Quintet or that by the New London Chamber Ensemble I reviewed here recently have more idiomatic bite and tartness. Canto serioso, as presented here in an arrangement, is not so successful. More is not necessarily better, and the additional instruments detract from rather than enhance the original for horn and piano. That said, it receives a fine enough performance. It’s hard to imagine better performances, on the other hand, of the two Martinů works. Both are delightful, even if neither is in the class of the composer’s best music, such as his concertos. The Quartet with its accompanying side-drum is deliciously quirky. And, the Berio encore is icing on the cake.

This program is varied enough in its repertoire, albeit out of the mainstream, to appeal to a wider audience than one at first might imagine. Certainly fans of horn and clarinet playing should hear it. The recorded sound is excellent, with plenty of natural presence, but not in-your-face closeness. The booklet notes by Jaromír Havlík are more than adequate, even if they read like translations from the Czech, which they obviously are.

Leslie Wright