Album detail
Catalogue number: SU 4239-2

Reinhard Goebel, an esteemed Baroque music connoisseur, ranks Zelenka (along with J. S. Bach and Handel) among the five best composers of the first half of the 18th century. In his accompanying text, he refers to him as “grandiose and fantastic”. And the cycle of six sonatas for two oboes, bassoon and continuo serves to prove that his assertion is far from being mere hyperbole, that it is a justified opinion worthy of being giving serious thought. And when these gems are undertaken by musicians as open-minded and of such superlative quality as members of the Berliner Philhamoniker, the listener can look forward to a great feast. Feast that became real thanks to Ensemble Berlin Prag and it new double album SU 4239–2. Now it's time to give the floor to one of the members of the ensemble, renowned oboist and producer of this beautiful recording Vilém Veverka who uncovers many interesting details regarding genesis of the whole project and Ensemble Berlin Prag itself.

What was the major impulse for recording the extensive repertoire featured on the Zelenka album?
The idea of recording Jan Dismas Zelenka’s cycle with Ensemble Berlin Prag had been there, at least latently, since the formation’s very beginning. It was among its basic intentions – to explore, perform in concert and make a recoding. The Zelenka cycle is a true “opus magnum” of Baroque music, no one had created a more essential set of trio sonatas, and not just with respect to the oboe. The motivation and the related aspiration may accompany a person/performer for several years before the right moment arrives. And you can only claim to be able to render such a highly sophisticated score after you have learned all the details of the Zelenka cycle. We were really verging on the cycle’s recording for years before we intuitively felt that the right moment and the ideal constellation had occurred for us to recast the musical material and our long-term endeavours into a magnificent album. I would specify the intention with the words: “Es muss sein”.

How did you select the musical partner who would undertake the role of the additional oboist? Did you bear Dominik Wollenweber, your long-time colleague and teacher in Berlin, in mind from the very beginning?
Our long-term relationship dates back to 1998, when I first met Dominik Wollenweber. In the initial phase, it was clearly a teacher-pupil relationship. Similarly to other mentors, including Albrecht Mayer, for instance, Dominik practised the “philosophy” that teaching means showing that which is feasible, while studying means allowing the feasible to materialise, naturally, in an authentic form. Today, Dominik and I are not only professional musical partners, we are also good friends, which is, of course, motivating, as well as binding, given our long experience of working together. Yet neither of us wants to lag behind.

And how did you select the musicians for the Ensemble Berlin Prag project?
Dominik and I selected our co-players together. One of Europe’s finest oboists, a member of the Berliner Philharmoniker and one of the most sought-after educators, Dominik recommended the phenomenal Israeli bassoonist Mor Biron, who too is a member of the Berliner Philharmoniker. In my opinion, Mor is perhaps the best Zelenka bassoonist since the time of Sergio Azzolini. What is more, he had previously worked on a number of projects with Ulrich Wolff, another member of the Berliner Philharmoniker, a brilliant Baroque music performer, who also plays the double bass, gamba and viola. And the German harpsichordist Barbara Maria Willi has been my musical partner for more than a decade, so she was logically chosen to perform the harpsichord part.

What role in the recording project was undertaken by Reinhard Goebel, a celebrated conductor and violinist, who in the 1970s founded and then for a long time led the Musica Antiqua Köln orchestra?
I would say that working with him was my most intense musical experience in 2017. When I met him, I realised that I had the honour to face a true genius. Never before had I encountered a musical figure as well-rounded as Reinhard Goebel. His awareness and profound knowledge of music is truly unique. Reinhard Goebel’s contri­bution was essential. It was he who furnished our account with the final form. And he clearly defined the entire vision: “Record the music in such a manner that no one else would ever again feel the necessity to do it again”. The sentence was precisely that which we needed to hear; it was de facto a definition of something that we subconsciously felt as being our intention. In the studio, we focused on each and every note, we did our maximum to make a benchmark recording, one that would still be exemplary in 30 years or so.

What is your view of the ongoing discussion about playing historical instruments and informed performance of the Baroque repertoire?
I would again like to quote Reinhard Goebel, who was our supervisor. For him, musical instruments are merely the tools that serve to render the score. Thus, instruments are not the major medium. The “modern versus historical instruments” discussion does not pertain to the substance of the matter, only the manner. What is essential is the result, irrespective of the way that has been chosen.

Where was the album recorded?
We recorded the album at Berlin’s Teldex studio, believed to be one of the best studios in the world. That made the recording expensive, yet we agreed that we should not be thrifty when it comes to a project of such great significance. After all, it was one of the reasons why I participated in the project as a co-producer.

How often do Ensemble Berlin Prag give concerts?
Since the very beginning, we have adhered to the principle that all our concerts should be exclusive events. We have mainly rehearsed in Berlin. As three of our musicians are members of the Berliner Philharmoniker, we have planned our performances accordingly. Our aim is to turn every single concert of ours into an exceptional event, for us and the audience alike. Without trying to give an exhaustive summary, I would like to mention the most prestigious stages on which we have appeared. In December 2017, we debuted within a Berliner Philharmoniker cycle. We have performed at a number of major festival in the Czech Republic, including Prague Spring, Smetana’s Litomyšl, Contentus Moraviae, Moravian Autumn and Janáček May. We have given concerts in other European countries too. I am pleased that we have succeeded in establishing and asserting the Ensemble Berlin Prag trademark precisely in line with our ambitions.

What repertoire do you feature at your concerts?
The core of our repertoire is Jan Dismas Zelenka’s music, yet we also perform works by other Baroque masters, Johann Sebastian Bach and François Couperin, for instance. We have been continuously extending our repertoire, including pieces by 20th- and 21st-century composers as well. We are convinced that combining early and contemporary music is legitimate, with the juxtaposition of styles representing a considerable enrichment, primarily for our audience, as well as festival organisers.

What about the Czech-German aspect of your formation?
In connection with Ensemble Berlin Prag, I would like to highlight the idea that it serves as a kind of cultural bridge between the two countries. Our formation is thus an exemplary platform of Czech-German collaboration, symbolising the process of understanding, in music and beyond. Noteworthy too is that we above all play Czech music.

Artists bear within a myriad of plans and dreams. What do you intend to record next?
Slightly ironically, we’ve said to ourselves that we could record the Zelenka cycle again 20 years down the line. In the near future, we would like to make an album of J. S. Bach’s Orgelso­naten, BWV 525 – 530, which we perform in the version for oboe, cor anglais, bassoon and continuo. When played on these instruments, Bach’s music sounds as good as in its original version.