Jagdhorn-Korps Oberbayern

Hubert Obry: Die St. Hubertus-Messe

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This ZYX two-disc set, Die St. Hubertus-Messe, really takes the cake, or should we say the bull-deer by its horns? Annually, in some parts of Europe, the start of hunting season on November 3 is signified by the playing of the St. Hubertus Mass, an extended piece for massed hunting horns. This ritual, which appears to have originated in France in the first half of the eighteenth century, is observed in honor of St. Hubert who, according to legend, encountered a great stag in the woods with a shining crucifix dangling within its horns; Hubertus promptly threw down his bow and vowed never to hunt again. Although the standard text for the Hubertus Mass is likewise French and published there in 1934, this ZYX release, Hubert Obry: Die St. Hubertus-Messe, is performed by a Northern Bavarian hunting horn ensemble. Its musical text is taken from Hubert Obry, the first compiler of hunting horn melodies for the purposes of such usage, who died in 1850. Depending on one's taste, Die St. Hubertus-Messe will either be of the most fascinating field recordings of massed natural horns ever made or the most elephantine case of gas needing to be passed ever committed onto recordings.

The recording itself is astoundingly bad; while one would expect to hear stray sounds at what is obviously a very loud public event, these tend to travel throughout the reverberation in the recording, which suggests the reverberation itself -- or at least part of it -- is not natural. The level of grainy, ticky noise is very high, and at points where the horns are going full strength there is this curious artifact; the best way to explain it is to note that in the early 1960s inventor Raymond Scott designed a tape machine that made the head bounce around in random ways to create "an underwater trumpet." It's this same effect; not an acoustical phenomena, but the sound of an overloaded tape head trying to take in masses of waddled brass. What's even more unfathomable is that this is a two-disc set, and the filler consists of Mozart's "Hunt" string quartet and his four Horn Concerti on the second disc. The recording of the "Hunt" quartet, performed by the Mozarteum-Quartett of Salzburg, is actually quite good, both as a recording and a performance. Less so are the horn concerti, which are distantly recorded, presented in furry, quaintly constricted sound and not played with much enthusiasm.

One wants to be charitable, but the only reasonable conclusion is that this is a party record; while the musical experience is indigenous to Bavaria -- though, admittedly, only since the 1950s -- this recording represents a distortion of it. ZYX came up with a very nice cover illustration, but please, don't be fooled; Die St. Hubertus-Messe makes Archiv's notorious ethnological recording Easter On Mt. Athos sound like Telarc's Cincinnati Pops recording of the 1812 Overture, and should only be used to annoy one's neighbors or to chase away unwanted guests after a party that has lasted too long.

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