Horn Player Radek Baborak plays Zelenka and Telemann Overtures


In the hierarchy of French horn players, Radek Baborák resides at the very top, with little company. His burnished golden tone, sparkling articulation, and boundless musicality is astonishing to hear in this very difficult program of overtures by Telemann and Zelenka.

These two composers were writing for the natural, or hunting horn which was played before valves were added to brass instruments. Basically, it was a long metal hose that flared at the end. As a quick refresher on the harmonic series, if the lowest tone that this tube can produce is a B flat, the next higher note that can naturally be played would also be a B flat, one octave above. Speaking roughly, as some of these intervals are either too wide (sharp) or too narrow (flat), the next note is a fifth higher, then a fourth, a third, a minor third and a flat minor third, three whole steps, and a few out of tune whole steps until they all become half steps, or a chromatic scale. In order for Telemann or Zelenka to write a lyrical melody for the horn, this is where it had to be, in the very upper range of the instrument.

Because the notes are so close together, it takes tremendous control in the small muscles of the embouchure to produce the desired pitches. This is what makes the finesse and subtlety with which Mr. Baborák plays in that upper register so amazing.

I've said nothing of the music itself. I should note that, an "overture" at this time was not what we now understand it to be. It was not only an introductive single movement, but rather a "suite" of contrasting dance movements. This form would later blossom into the orchestral suite, popular all over Europe.

Radek Baborák, who was principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic from 2003 to 2010, plays with the Berliner Barock Solisten, a group founded in 1995 by members of the Berlin Philharmonic. The performances are superb, the music is a joy to listen to, and you get to hear a horn player who is without question among the top ranking few on the planet.