Palschau / Schulz, Harpsichord Concertos and solo works,
Lars Ulrik Mortensen, CoCo
I like the harpsichord. Consequently I tend to like harpsichord concertos and solo works for harpsichord. Which is not to say that I am indiscriminate when it comes to the instrument. I’ll be as bored as anyone if a second-rate work is given the monotonous cembalo treatment. But whether 20th century composition or Galant-style concerto, I’ll be intrigued enough to give it a listen.
Intrigue gave way to proper enjoyment when I listened to Johann Gottfried Wilhelm Palschau’s two harpsichord concertos in C and D-major. There is little known about J.G.W. Palschau himself. He was born around 21 December 1741, but we don’t know where, except most likely in Denmark. We know he died in St. Petersburg, but not exactly when … except probably in 1813 or 1815. He published these concertos, the only ones known to exist, in 1771 but may well have written them before 1768. He was a child prodigy but did not quite turn out to be a Danish Mozart.
The music is C.P.E. Bach-ish - more guarded and cautious than some of the wilder, fanciful compositions of the time. Indeed, more than a Galant-style concerto, it sounds like a ‘Concert Reminiscence’ of a Bach harpsichord concerto. A true (valentine) treat.
If J.A.P. Schulz is ‘famous’ at all, it is for his composition of the song “Der Mond ist Aufgegangen” (“The Moon has Risen”), probably sung by every German above at one point in his or her childhood. The critical reception in 1779 of Schulz’s Six diverses pièces pour le clavecin ou le piano forte stated that they were “among the best piano pieces of our time […] in the manner of Bach and not unworthy of him.” There is little to add to that, more than 200 years later except perhaps the caution that Schulz, a Bach-student by second degree - his teacher J.P. Kirnberger was taught by Bach - often doesn’t actually sound much like J.S. Bach. The pieces pinpoint and reflect the time when the harpsichord was left behind in favor of the fortepiano. The admittedly (J.S.) Bachian Preludio showcases specifically the older instrument. Other pieces were probably intended for the fortepiano abilities and sound accordingly different. There’s no harm in hearing them all on the harpsichord, though, played so expertly by Lars Ulrik Mortensen – who also leads Concerto Copenhagen in the Palschau concertos.
The recorded sound is exemplary and catches the harpsichord with a warm glow but never leaves smudges.