Molter Concertos for Natural Trumpets and Horns Present Challenges

Not everyone’s a fan of original instrumental performances.

I am — especially when they’re done well. This release features Jean- François Madeuf performing Molter concertos with a natural trumpet and natural horn. And the results gave me a new appreciation for this under-appreciated composer. And real appreciation for Madeuf’s technical prowess.

Modern trumpets and f horns have valves, which lets them easily play any note within the range of the instrument. Natural instruments — basically just long brass tubes — were limited to the notes in the harmonic series. In such a series, the gaps between notes the tube can produce get smaller as the pitch gets higher.

To play more than bugle calls, melodies had to be written in the extreme upper register of the instrument. And that takes lip control.

Madeuf plays with a clean, clear tone. His intonation artfully shapes the melodic lines. In these recordings, the natural horn has a softer, warmer sound than its modern counterpart. The natural trumpet also doesn’t sound strident the way a modern trumpet can in the high registers.

These concertos were written to show off (or perhaps test) the mettle of the soloists. The music’s easy to play with modern instruments. But with a natural horn or trumpet, some of Molter’s passages are quite challenging.

Sometimes I heard the struggle in Madeuf’s playing. And that was fine. It made me reassess Molter’s music. These weren’t just the pleasant diversions they sound like with modern instruments. Rather, these concertos pushed the limits of the players and the instruments, which made them much more interesting to listen to.

Johann Melchior Molter: Concertos for Trumpets and Horns
Jean-François Madeuf: natural trumpet and natural horn
Musica Fiorita; Daniela Dolci, harpsichord, organ, and director
Accent ACC 24327 

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