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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Horn Concertos
Concerto for horn, strings & basso continuo in E-flat major (reconstruction after BWV 169, 49 & 1053) [20:33]
Concerto for horn, strings & basso continuo in D minor (reconstruction after BWV 1059R and BWV 35. Adagio after Alessandro Marcello Concerto for oboe, strings & basso continuo in D minor) [14:08]
Concerto for horn, strings & basso continuo in B-flat major (reconstruction after Concerto for oboe d’amore, strings & basso continuo in A major BWV 1055R) [14:49]
Radek Baborák (horn), Berlin Barock Solisten
rec. October 2020, Blackbird Music Studio, Charlottenburg, Berlin,Germany

This new Hänssler Classic release of J.S. Bach works comprises three horn concertos played by celebrated Czech soloist Radek Baborák presented in his own ‘reconstructions’ of other Bach works.

Born in 1976 in Pardubice, Radek Baborák is a vastly experienced horn player who has also turned to conducting. A product of the Prague Conservatory, he has been the recipient of a number of competition prizes and awards and in his playing career has held several prestigious positions, beginning with his appointment aged eighteen as principal horn of the Czech Philharmonic. He was subsequently appointed principal horn of the Munich Philharmonic, then the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic, which he left in 2010 to pursue a freelance profession as a soloist chamber musician especially with the Afflatus Quintet and his own Baborák Ensemble, while maintaining a parallel career as a conductor. As an educator, Baborák has lectured at the Fondazione Arturo Toscanini, the Toho University Tokyo, Reina Sofía School of Music and the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Prague.

The process of transcribing works for different instruments and combinations was common in the late baroque era. Bach would often rearrange his own compositions and a number of his works played today are transcriptions of works he had written earlier, some of which were probably based on originals now lost. It is likely that Bach’s first use of the valveless horn was in his ‘Hunting’ Cantata, BWV 208 (1713) yet he wrote no solo work or concerto for the horn - or if he did, none has survived. He did however provide important horn passages, notably in his Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 and Mass in B minor.

It is hardly surprising that Baborák wanted to transcribe some of Bach’s music to make it accessible to horn players and widen the horn repertoire. Some years ago, he started playing the Bach cello suites on the horn and subsequently began arranging and transcribing other Bach works for his instrument, including the sonatas for harpsichord, the sonatas for viola da gamba, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin and some choral preludes for the organ. Baborák has pointed out that when working on the solo part of his reconstructions, he has the task of ‘reducing the sheer volume of notes into a form playable on the horn without impairing the substance of the music’. He believes that it doesn’t really matter whether his transcriptions are played on a modern or period valveless horn as long as it ‘will help, not hinder, appreciation of the music’.

The first of Baborák’s three reconstructions played here is the Concerto for horn, strings and basso in E flat major reworked from a Concerto for viola, strings and basso in E flat major, in turn likely reconstructed from the cantatas BWV 169 and 49 and the Concerto for harpsichord in E flat major BWV 1053. For the Concerto for horn, strings and basso in B flat major, Baborák has ‘reconstructed a concerto that was the source of Bach’s Concerto in A major for harpsichord, BWV 1055’. He explains that musicologists have evidence that Bach wrote a Concerto for oboe d’amore in A major.

Baborák has applied an alternative method for his reconstruction of the Concerto for horn, strings and basso in D minor. Here, he uses a fragment that is Bach’s incomplete Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1059 and a pair of instrumental movements from the cantata BWV 35. Baborák adopts these two movements as the outer movements Allegro and Presto of the Horn Concerto. For the attractive middle movement Adagio, Baborák utilises the Adagio of Alessandro Marcello’s Concerto for oboe, strings and basso in D minor. In fact, Bach also transcribed Marcello oboe concerto in D minor, in a version for solo harpsicord, BWV 974 adding his own ornamentations.

Playing his own Bach reconstructions tailored to his own instrument, Baborák is in prime form, seemingly overcoming the challenges of the scores with little difficulty and clearly dedicated to the works. Standing out are the soloist’s delightfully pure tone and his impressive phrasing. Specialising in early music, the Berliner Barock Solisten was founded in 1995 by Rainer Kussmaul and Raimar Orlovsky together with leading members of the Berlin Philharmonic. This chamber ensemble plays on modern instruments or period instruments with modern set-ups. Consisting of a modest group of a dozen string players and a harpsichordist for this recording, they perform to a consistently high standard with pleasing vibrancy and crisp and cleanly articulated rhythms. These are by no means Bach’s most inspiring works, yet they undoubtedly leave an agreeable impression and are given performances to savour. 

The sound quality here is top drawer, with Baborák’s horn set in an ideal position, just slightly forward of the chamber ensemble. Helpful booklet notes comprise of an introductory note by the soloist and an informative essay by Gerhard Forck. At just under fifty minutes, the playing time of the album is meagre by current standards but it is so impressively played and recorded that Bach enthusiasts and admirers of both horn-playing and baroque music in general need not to hesitate to acquire this release.

Michael Cookson

Berliner Barock Solisten:
Violin I: Martin Funda, Dorian Xhoxhi, Hande Küden, Helena Ottenlips
Violin II: Raimar Orlovsky, Anna Luisa Mehlin, Christoph Streuli
Viola: Walter Küssner, Matthew Hunter
Cello: Kristin von der Goltz, Joan Bachs
Violone: Ulrich Wolff
Harpsichord: Raphael Alpermann

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