Classical CD Reviews

“Musique de Venerie” Hunting Horns – Les Trompes de Chambord – Ad Vitam

Definitely an unusual sound and not like the French horns in an orchestra.

Published on December 13, 2012

“Musique de Venerie” Hunting Horns – Les Trompes de Chambord – Ad Vitam

“Musique de Venerie” Hunting Horns – Les Trompes de Chambord – Ad Vitam AV 120615 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi], 60:56 ****:

The outdoors are what the hunting horns of this CD call home: the open fields and woodlands they had shared their home with horses and packs of hounds.   Today the sport of hunting has been curtailed but the other traditions hold strong; one of these traditions is the playing of the hunting horn.   The horn was used to communicate over the grounds to the various groups engaged in the hunt, much like the bugle; to send signals over a distance and for the different parties to hear.

This CD has a mix of works; both utilitarian hunting calls and pieces written for entertainment.   The ensemble includes many award-winning players, and displays a high level of technique; both solo and ensemble wise.    However it is worth noting; these are not the horns ones hears soaring above the orchestra in the opening strains of Don Juan or in the hunting chorus of Der Freischütz.

These instruments, due to both construction and playing style, are almost not recognizable to modern ears as the horns we are accustomed to.   While they share the basic characteristics of the modern instruments; they have a conical bore and are bent in a round shape there are some key differences; most significantly the players hand was not placed in the bell.    This accomplished two effects; it allows the player to produce notes not found on the natural harmonic series, and it also changes the horn’s sound, making it mellower and less strident.   The darkening of the pitch allowed it to blend better with the ‘indoor’ woodwinds and strings, losing the rough outdoor edge.

However the original strident tone, that edge was perfect for the hunting horn’s outdoor purpose.   With this in mind it makes perfect sense that in most of the pieces there are only two dynamics; very loud and not as loud.   The stylistic approach is also very different; many of the entrances, both soloist and ensemble use a glissando up to the beginning pitch.    Also there is a very wide, almost a half step, vibrato which is very metered on the sustained notes.   The number of calls and pieces recorded and presented on the disk is an almost overwhelming 57.   All the hunting calls are all very short, around half a minute, with the ensemble pieces between one to three minutes.   The last track is one of the most interesting and most attuned to modern ears; the soloist is playing Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and is using the hand horn technique mentioned earlier.   This is the track where the bridge between the ancient and the modern is shown and most easily heard giving a very fitting ending to the CD.

This is a wonderful CD for those who are—apart of the Hunting Horn scene—those who are looking for something really different, or for teachers wanting a historical and pedagogical resource.   It is horn-playing calling from that ancient past; which is completely unexpected and a surprise.

—Darren Robison

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