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Brandenburg Blower

Time, July 6, 1962:

Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is rarely played in the concert hall - and even more rarely played well. But Bach himself would have been pleased with last weeks performance by the Hamburg Chamber Orchestra, and the Hamburg Musikhalle echoed to a stamping, shouting ovation. The orchestra had provided a dividend: playing the fiendishly difficult trumpet part was perhaps the best classical trumpeter in Europe - the North German Radio Orchestra's pint-sized (5 ft. 1 in.), portly (187 lbs.) Adolf Scherbaum.

The source of Trumpeter Scherbaum's appeal is his mastery of the baroque trumpet. A shorter instrument than the modern trumpet, the baroque requires iron control and lungs like bellows. Even experts can rarely coax it into anything more than a banshee wail. Scherbaum produces a ringing, jubilant tone that is the joy of Bach lovers - and of Michael Haydn and Leopold Mozart fans as well. Of all the pieces he plays, the toughest is the Brandenburg No. 2: in the upper range it soars to G above high C, and wise conductors almost always cheat on the trumpet part and make do with an E-flat clarinet or a soprano saxophone.

As distinguished a musician as the Vienna Philharmonic's Helmuth Wobisch has been known to enlist a second trumpeter to negotiate the concerto's lower passages while he concentrated on the high ones.

Just a Hobby. Scherbaum sailed through the Brandenburg No. 2 last week as if it were as simple as 'Au Clair de la Lune'. Nonchalantly placing his weight on one leg, the egg-shaped instrumentalist blew through the intricacies of the high coloratura with characteristic ease; he blasted a final, full-volume flourish that brought an audible gasp from the audience. Chances are that he could have gone through the whole piece with his eyes shut: he has recorded the concerto for 14 different labels, has become so thoroughly identified with it that in Western and Eastern Europe alike, the solution to the Second Brandenburg has become - "Get Scherbaum."

Czech-born, Scherbaum, 52, studied at the Prague Academy of Music, graduated to the Brno Opera Orchestra, and while there started "experimenting with playing ordinary trumpet parts an octave higher than written - just as a hobby." The hobby, Scherbaum thinks, helped him develop the breath control and facial muscles necessary for the baroque trumpet. Hired by Furtwängler as solo trumpet for the Berlin Philharmonic, Scherbaum returned to Czechoslovakia after World War II, in 1951 settled in Hamburg, where he quickly became the highest paid and most famous member of the North German Radio Orchestra.

High Pressure. Wherever Bach buffs gather, Scherbaum can be found - at the Ansbach Festival, for instance, and in recording studios all over Europe (his recordings have three times won France's Grand Prix du Disque). When Otto Klemperer embarked on a project to record all six Brandenburg concertos with London's Philharmonic Orchestra, he routed Scherbaum out of bed with a long distance call and implored him to take a morning plane to England. When Scherbaum played the Second Brandenburg in Moscow, the solo trumpeter of the State Symphony Orchestra rushed backstage to embrace him - it was the first time the Russian had heard the music played as Bach wrote it.

Scherbaum's feats are so amazing that doctors (including a lung specialist, a brain specialist and a radiologist) at the University of Basel once wired him with a battery of instruments to see what happened to him when he blew a C above high C. Their conclusion: although the air pressure inside Scherbaum was higher than that of the average automobile tire (24 lbs. per sq. in.), he was doing himself no noticeable harm.

The source of his power, says Scherbaum, is "diaphragm and abdominal muscles", plus "a secret" that he will not reveal. Whatever that secret is, U.S. audiences will have a chance to judge it for themselves next winter: Scherbaum will tour the U.S. with the North German Radio Orchestra - presumably blowing a Brandenburg Second to end them all.

Scherbaum wired for sound - as pneumatic as an auto tire