Tuesday, October 26, 2010


St. Agnes Convent
October 25

It’s always an occasion when French horn virtuoso Radek Baborák gets some of his friends together for a chamber music concert. The gathering at St. Agnes’ last night was a smart, relaxed affair with Baborák and a first-class string quartet presenting a wide-ranging program that started in Baroque and ended solidly in the 21st century.

A virtuoso with a collaborative spirit.
The quartet included players who often perform with Baborák – his wife Hana on cello, Jiří Žigmund from the Wihan Quartet on viola, and Czech Philharmonic violinist Aida Shabuová – along with Slovak violinist Dalibor Karvay. While a bit shy of the precision that a standing string quartet would have, they played with great warmth and feeling, particularly on the more emotional pieces, like Alexander Glazunov’s Idylle and Leone Sinigaglia’s Romanza.

Certainly the most captivating sound of the evening was Baborák’s horn. The Gothic performance space, which can be too airy for some string ensembles, was perfect for a solo French horn, giving it a rich, full glow that filled the space without bouncing off the walls. The effect on the opening piece, Mozart’s Horn Quintet (K 407), was almost magical, like “surround sound” that seemed everywhere, even and clear without a specific origin point.

Baborák could play an entire evening of Baroque classics and send the audience home happy, but he is an adventuresome soul with many colleagues and friends whom he likes to include in his performances. So after a winsome duet from Glazunov (Idylle and Serenade), the group played an arrangement of an oratorio by Miloš Bok, an organist, composer and conductor known for his work with church choral groups. It came off as a robust neoclassical piece with modern flavors and some interesting turns of phrase and mood. The composer was in attendance and got a nice hand afterward.

The second half was all modern music that was perhaps most noteworthy for being so accessible. Corado Saglietti’s Suite for horn and string quartet, published just this year, is a bright “cocktail of passion, nostalgia and virtuosity” (the composer’s description) that would work well as television or film soundtrack music. The ensemble had fun with the piece, including a vocal chirp that Baborák playfully contributed to the third movement.

Sinigaglia’s Romanza is a more somber work that the group rendered in a dignified, reflective manner. Kerry Turner’s Sonata is an engaging piece from the American composer and French horn player with vivid colors and inventive transitions. It employs the full range of the horn, which Baborák handled effortlessly, and includes some brief viola solos that sounded sweet in Žigmund’s hands.

Three brief encores gave Baborák a chance to introduce the members of the group and preview one of the pieces he will be playing tonight at Salon Philharmonia. Those had no sooner wrapped than half the audience began streaming into the back room to greet and congratulate the ensemble. As noted earlier, Baborák has a lot of friends.

It’s also worth noting that Baborák is a world-class player who has soloed with orchestras from St. Petersburg to Tokyo, and most recently held the principal horn seat with the Berlin Philharmonic. That he’s chosen to return to Prague and play what he enjoys, with a rotating cast of high-caliber accompanists, is a boon for local music fans and a treat to watch. Baborák is clearly having a good time with these ensembles, interacting with the players during the performance and generating positive energy that extends to the audience.

These may not be the most polished performances in town. But as an opportunity to see great musicians who enjoy playing together serving up fresh, intelligent music, you will not do better.

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