Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) was a violone/bass viol player in the court orchestra of the Elector of Saxony in Dresden, and an aspiring composer of sacred music for voices, awarded a bare subsistence station as "kirchencompositeur" - church-composer - when the younger and more fashionable Johann Adolf Hasse became Kapellmeister. It's hard to guess how much of Zelenka's musical output has survived, but it seems clear that sacred music was far more important to him than secular. Ironically, the first inklings of a Zelenka discovery/revival, in the mid 20th C, made him instantly beloved by bassoonists, since his small oeuvre of trio sonatas and other chamber works feature "our" instrument prominently. Even in the larger sacred vocal works, wonderful parts for bassoon and oboe abound.
The orchestral works recorded on three CDs also abound in delightful parts for double reeds, fiercely challenging parts for natural horn, and occasional parts for chalumeau, the forerunner of the clarinet. Anyone who still supposes that the natural horn can't really 'cover' the parts written for it, and thus must be replaced by the modern French horn, will be disabused of that foolish prejudice by listening to this "original instrument" ensemble.
Zelenka's orchestral palette may sound remarkably 'advanced' for the 1720s, but that's a result of his roots in the Viennese/Czech musical worlds. As original and distinctive as these pieces seem at times, Zelenka was not especially experimental in instrumental music. His orchestral works are sprightly, ceremonious, sonorous, and relatively simple in structure; they're obviously crowd-pleasers for public occasions. There's nothing on these three disks that rivals Bach's concertos or suites, or that aspires to do so. Zelenka's special genius is reserved for his masses and liturgical works.
Nevertheless, played as well as they are here, Zelenka's orchestral works make very pleasant listening, especially if you're a fan of soaring horns, acrobatic oboes, and bouncy bassoons.