Ursula Paludan Monberg - "The Superb Horn"

Danish virtuoso Monberg achieves miracles…

We’re now so used to hearing the untempered sound of period brass instruments that Ursula Paludan Monberg’s natural horn playing sounds, well, normal, so well-attuned is it to the repertoire she’s chosen for this solo anthology. Never underestimate the phenomenal difficulty of what she’s doing, though; rank amateurs like me struggle to sound competent on the valved horn, whereas the young Danish virtuoso Monberg achieves miracles with a length of unadorned brass tubing. The most substantial piece here is Mozart’s K407 Horn Quintet. More demanding than the better-known horn concertos, good performances have a delicious autumnal glow, partly down to Mozart’s inclusion of two violas instead of two violins. Monberg is outstanding in the central Andante’s exposed high writing, a tricky two-octave leap accomplished with minimal effort. She performs the Quintet in the 1802 André edition, the first one to be published with a horn part and missing a few non-essential bars. She’s dazzling in the fiendish finale, evidence that not all Mozart’s E flat horn pieces ended with 6/8 rondos. The Sinfonia da camera by Leopold Mozart is a flimsy piece by comparison; Monberg’s spectacular high register grabs our attention more readily than the actual music.

Turn instead to Haydn’s little Divertimento a 3, composed in 1767 for a member of Haydn’s Esterházy orchestra who had mastered both high and low extremes of the natural horn’s range. Monberg darts around above the stave without a care; the disc has to be heard for this work alone. A pair of works by one Carl Heinrich Graun are enjoyable, as is Telemann’s delightful Concerto a 3, actually a trio sonata, Monberg beautifully matched by recorder player Sarah Humphrys. Two enjoyable concertos of unknown provenance complete the disc. It’s all good; Jonathan Cohen’s Arcangelo provide lithe, colourful support and we get informative sleeve notes from fellow hand horn player Andrew Clark.

Graham Rickson, The Arts Desk

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