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