Lars Ulrik Mortensen

J.W.G. Palschau, J.A.P. Schulz: Concertos And Solo Works For Harpsichord

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One barrier, at least for American listeners, to comprehending the Danish label DaCapo's Palschau/Schulz: Concertos and Solo Works for Harpsichord is the great unfamiliarity of these names. Johann Gottfried Wilhelm Palschau is certainly a name known to very few; he was a Danish-born musician whose European reputation as a harpsichord virtuoso was extensive before 1771, when he settled at first in Riga and then later St. Petersburg. That year he also published the two harpsichord concerti heard here; they are the only ones known that he produced and given their somewhat rustic, early galant idiom, they may actually date from the 1750s or '60s. Listeners may have encountered the name of Johann Abraham Peter Schulz, whose passion oratorio Christe Død (1792) is a major masterwork among sacred works from the late eighteenth century; he is likewise renowned in Denmark as a key early composer of Danish lieder. Schulz's worklist is overwhelmingly vocal and the Six Diverses Pièces, Op. 1 (1776), included here are among a very small handful of instrumental works known by him; this appears to be the first complete recording of Schulz' Op. 1 as a set. They are by turns probing, sensitive, dazzling, and somewhat eccentric pieces reminiscent of Domenico Scarlatti in certain cases (particularly No. 3, "Allegro maestoso") and of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in others. Harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen does a splendid job interpreting these pieces and the concerti, but there is a real problem with DaCapo's recording. The harpsichord is very faint in relation to the string orchestra accompaniment, provided by the conductor-less Concerto Copenhagen; in the solo pieces, the harpsichord is placed at roughly the same level as in the concerti, but as there are no strings involved, you can at least turn it up. Even then, DaCapo's recording seems a little thin, shallow, and excessively reverberant, a pity as the instrument Mortensen plays, about which the booklet says absolutely nothing, is a very interesting-sounding one. While DaCapo's engineers may have sought to reproduce the natural balance of the naturally quiet harpsichord as it is, listening to a harpsichord in person and then on a recording really are two different things. Despite the slight dishonesty involved in amping it up, in all practical purposes you really need to have the harpsichord somewhat louder when it comes to a recording.

The Schulz pieces are definitely worth knowing and strongly merit revival, and though while the Palschau concerti make for pleasant listening, they don't seem particularly strong in themselves and the recording quality is bothersome. If the Schulz -- occupying 28 minutes of a CD that lasts 68 overall -- is enough for you, then this recording might well worth be obtaining.

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