Ursula Paludan Monberg - "The Superb Horn"

Monberg, thoroughly in command of her instrument, produces a miraculously smooth and agile line with secure tuning…

The Danish horn player Ursula Paludan Monberg, thoroughly in command of her instrument, produces a miraculously smooth and agile line with secure tuning…the continuo section of Arcangelo, led by Jonathan Cohen’s harpsichord, provides firm support. The recording convincingly places the listener in the room with the players, tying the notoriously elusive horn to a precise spot on the soundstage. BBC Music Magazine

Monberg produces a beautifully rounded tone and displays a consummate playing technique...

After dropping apparently fully-formed into its role as an orchestral instrument in Handel’s Water Music, the horn very soon became an indispensable part of the Baroque and Classical orchestra. This CD explores its parallel pivotal role in 18th-century chamber music and illustrates how quickly composers cottoned on to the horn’s musical potential, while at the same time the technical developments instigated by players extended the instrument’s range. The opening track is a beautiful sinfonia da camera for horn and strings by Leopold Mozart, while a concerto and a trio by Graun, two anonymous Concerti from a Swedish source, a concerto by Telemann, a divertimento by Haydn and the E-flat-major horn quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart all chart the horn’s development from Baroque to Classical instrument. The music selected for this CD shares the feature of being delightfully entertaining, while the anonymous concerti for horn, oboe d’amore and continuo and for horn, two oboes and continuo are particularly charming. The concerto for recorder, horn and continuo by Telemann is also predictably accomplished and engaging. Playing a wonderfully coiled Baroque horn, Ursula Paludin Monberg produces a beautifully rounded tone and displays a consummate playing technique. She is ably supported by the players of Arcangelo directed from the harpsichord by Jonathan Cohen. There is a wonderful inevitability about the thoroughly classical strains of the familiar Mozart quintet (K407) with which the CD concludes – we feel we have been informatively conducted from the horn’s early years in serious music to one of the pinnacles…

Monberg is certainly a superb exponent on the natural horn...

These eight works from the middle of the 18th century represent the first flowering of the French horn as a concertante instrument. Brought out of the hunting field and into the concert room, we might be able to point to earlier works involving the horn (Handel’s Water Music and Bach’s first Brandenburg Concerto spring to mind) but here we have it playing both a solo role and mingling with a chamber ensemble with notable success. The initial problems with the horn – its somewhat uncouth and uncontrollable tone, its extreme volume and, above all, its very limited pitch range – seemed to have been largely resolved by the time the earliest of these works – the Telemann trio sonata (here referred to as a Concerto à 3 – came along. So much so, in fact, that Telemann, with his characteristic passion for unearthing unexpected instrumental sounds, manages to produce a very passable duet for horn and descant recorder. Neither Carl Heinrich Graun nor Leopold Mozart seem completely able to shake off the Horn’s hunting field image, and the constant whooping up and down the four primary notes of the instrument’s harmonic sequence in the Mozart Concerto serve only to underline its lack of melodic flexibility. Mozart overcomes this with a certain level of humour (the booklet notes suggest that “only a composer with a sense of humour would write nine bars of trills in the first ten bars of the last movement”) but I find the Graun works generally lack personality; they have a clear logic and…

Ursula Paludan Monberg is one of the finest players of the natural horn around...

One of the most astonishing developments in musical instrument technology came with the elevation of the horn from its role a rather elemental rallying call to 17th-century aristocratic huntsmen to a sophisticated member of 18th-century court orchestras and chamber groups. One of the key aspects of this development was the technique of hand-stopping to alter the pitch. This was combined with the division of the 15 or so feet of tubing of the wound hunting horn into two parts, the smaller changeable crock allowing for changes of key. This recording explores the wide range of music composed for the natural horn during the 18th-century. The early years of the development of hand-horn techniques took place in Dresden with Anton Joseph Hampel, one of the court orchestra’s horn players. Carl Heinrich Graun’s early years were in Dresden where he later became Kapellmeister to Frederick the Great. Graun is given two slots on the recording, the first being the sophisticated Trio in D by Carl Heinrich Graun, written for horn, violin and continuo. The Andante includes some virtuoso moments for the horn player, with a number of trills. His Concerto in E flat major for horn, oboe d’amore and continuo is also in the form of a four-movement trio, here in Sonata da chiesa format rather than the Sonata da camera structure of the Trio in D. The third movement Largo uses the relative minor, a challenging key for the hand horn. Two anonymous pieces are taken from a collection in the Lund University Library, Sweden. The first heard, the Concerto…

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…

Monberg is demonstrably a master of the instrument...

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 is by JA…

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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