La Fête de Saint Hubert: Deutsche Naturhorn Solist

La Fête de Saint Hubert (Masses for Saint Hubert)

Label: Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG 605 1576-2)
Recorded: May, 18-20, 2009, Christuskirche Mannheim

Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten: Wilhelm Bruns, Stefan Berrang, Thomas Berrang, Sascha Hermann, Tilman Schärf, Michael Armbruster, Lars Mechelke, Ferenc Pal, Michael Sebert

Johannes Michel, Organ, Steinmeyer Organ, Christuskirche Mannheim 1911

The recording of four settings of the Mass for Saint Hubert released this year by the Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten and organist Johannes Michael is a fantastic addition to any hornist’s CD collection. The four masses included on the recording represent music written specifically for the hunting horn by Gustave Rochard (1866-1924), Tyndare (1858-1921), Albert Sombrun (1870-1922), and Jules Cantin (1874-1956). The source materials for the hunting horn parts come from examples given in treatises that the composers wrote for the hunting horn. The organ part however, was improvised and composed by the organist. While the organ part is an addition (due to the fact that these masses would likely have been heard outdoors where an organ would not have been present), the performers have otherwise striven to present a recording of these masses as they were designed by their composers.

The horn playing on this recording is both bold and sensitive. At many times the music calls on the horn players to evoke imagery of the hunt and the performers rise to the occasion with some delightfully raucous playing. These moments are beautifully balanced with passages of intense beauty and religious solemnity and the Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten excel in these passages as well. The moments of lyrical solo and duet playing that are heard throughout each mass are wonderfully vocal. During the Offertoire of Rochard’s mass, a horn solo intones short calls that seem to be echoes of offerings brought by the hunter-saint himself. The players of the low horn parts have a full, round tone that provides a stunning foundation for the ensemble and their playing rivals that of the bass tones coming from the organ. Particularly hair-raising are the bell tones played by the ensemble in Rochard’s and Cantin’s Cloches.

Also of interest in this recording is the combination of French and German musical traditions. The Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten chose to record these masses by French composers on their German Parforcehorns, pitched in E-flat. But they also chose to stand with their bells pointing toward the audience, as is the French tradition. This kind of mindful choice of instrument, performance set up, and authentic representation of the music itself are perfectly suited to the kind of “natural acoustics” that the MDG label prides itself on. The liner notes contain a wealth of information on the music and the author, Wilhelm Bruns, leader and founder of the Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten, explains well the choices the group made regarding the music itself, the instruments they play, and the performance set up. The liner notes also include a full breakdown of the manuals and pedals of the Steinmeyer organ at Christuskirche Mannheim. Unfortunately, there is no information on the Parforcehorns that the group is playing.

The only drawback one might find in this recording is the nature of the music itself. For example, the rather monochromatic tonality of the CD as a whole is a byproduct of the hunting horn’s small capability as a chromatic instrument. Also, the music itself can seem a bit clichéd because the composers each rely on similar traditions and parent sources for portions of their melodic material. That said, when the value of the recording as a resource and the spectacular playing displayed on it are weighed against the drawbacks mentioned above, they are extremely minor. This recording by the Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten and Johannes Michel is an extraordinary record of four important pieces in the hunting horn canon and definitely worth the investment.

- Eric Brummitt