Ursula Paludan Monberg - "The Superb Horn"

Monberg is demonstrably a master of the instrument.

Gramophone. March 2020 Ursula Paludan Monberg, born in 1982 in Aalborg, Denmark, is already the doyenne of the natural horn, having occupied principal chairs with The English Concert, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Arcangelo and others. A veteran of B minor Masses (including the Gramophone Award-nominated one by this ensemble – 11/14), she now makes her solo debut recording with a selection of pieces from the mid- and late 18th century. Monberg is demonstrably a master of the instrument. Even with the later invention of valves, the horn remains notoriously difficult to play, so with just a mouthpiece and bell connected by several feet of brass tubing, to make anything approaching an expressive sound is an achievement. Fair enough that the recorder takes the lead in a concerto by Telemann; but the blend with oboe d’amore in an anonymous concerto in E and another in D by one of the Graun family shows why combinations of horn with the larger oboes became such a favourite of Bach, Haydn and others. Chromaticism is achieved by hand, squeezing and pinching notes from the bell. Tone quality is obviously never going to be even and it is fascinating to hear how this was seen by these composers not as a limitation but as a challenge. If the tuning becomes a little gamey higher up, that’s a quirk of the instrument, not the player. The star is predictably Mozart’s Horn Quintet, which closes the disc. The extra twist here is that the edition used…

B Minor Mass with the OAE

The chapter John Eliot Gardiner dedicates to Bach’s B Minor Mass in his book on the composer is titled ‘The Art of Perfection’. The Mass is a work whose formal purity and artistic invention can appear unassailable, even inaccessible. The Bach Choir have explored it for over a century and returned to it once more with studied intensity in this performance with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The extraordinary Credo sequence, cast in nine movements, provided some of the most compelling music making of the evening. Conductor David Hill’s ‘Et incarnatus…’ was miraculous in its glowing halo of sound, with the first syllables of the ‘Crucifixus’ as bitter and penetrating as the nails driven into Christ’s hands and feet. The falling figure of the ‘sepultus est’ seemed to reach into the earth itself, before orchestra and chorus burst out of the gates in a blaze of defiant hope at ‘Et resurrexit  tertia…’ It did take a while for things to get going in the first part of the evening: ‘Et in terra pax’ felt rather workmanlike and formless, and the ‘Gloria’ was a sculpted, elegant dance that perhaps wanted for some divine fire. The tentative opening of ‘et expecto resurrectionem…’ had just enough clouds of mystery, even doubt, in its searching harmonies and breathtaking quietness, before exploding to life with the OAE’s trumpets and drums as its ‘Amens’ accumulated ever more energy. Before a broad and enfolding ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ we were treated to sumptuous, bravura ‘Osanna’ sequences, whose unaccompanied, declamatory…
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