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Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)
Easter Cantatas

Deus in adjutorum [10:13]
Christ lag in Todesbanden [13:02]
Hallelujah! Lobet den Herrn [13:27]
Christ ist erstanden [7:47]
Jauchzet dem Herrn [14:35]
Magnificat in C [18:20]
La Capella Ducale
Musica Fiata/Roland Wilson
Recorded May 22-25, 2002, Klosterkirche, Oberpfalz, Germany. DDD
cpo 999 916-2 [77:26]


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Johann Pachelbel, who sadly is today known only for the ubiquitous Canon in D, was a most respected composer in his own day. His influence extended all over Germany, and he was certain to have had an impact on Johann Sebastian Bach, whose older brother Johann Christoph, was Pachelbelís pupil.

Sadly, this recording of Sacred Cantatas misses the boat at so many ports, that what could have been a very welcome addition to the library is too flawed to be taken seriously. There are so many artistic problems in this performance that it would be dull to list them individually, so I will take the liberty of making a list of general comments that on the whole pertain to all of the pieces on the disc.

First there is the question of balance. Roland Wilson uses ten singers, five soli and five ripienists. Given the festive nature of this music, which often includes trumpets and drums, there is simply not enough voice to balance the instruments. Consequently, vocal counterpoint is obliterated, and one often has to mentally fill in the blanks of what cannot be clearly heard.

Next there is the issue of vocal style. Here the issues are myriad. Let us begin the "earlier than thou" sound of the sopranos, whose close-throated, overwrought with messa di voce singing is an annoyance from the get-go. Next comes counter-tenor soloist Ralf Popken, whose quality of tone is at worst just plain poor. There is no core to the sound, no particular beauty to the tone, phrasing or expression. The tenor and the bass fare little better.

Also bothersome is the lack of ensemble amongst the singers when singing as a choir. There is no unity to the choral sound. Rather we hear a mixed bag of individualist voices that stick out in odd places, making for a sound that is disjunct at best, unpleasant at worst.

Wilson delivers fairly run-of-the-mill interpretations of pieces that should be bursting with energy and emotion. They seem to me to be simply faxed in. To his credit, his instrumental ensemble plays with vigour and precision. This is not enough to save an otherwise poorly executed program. Frankly, I am quite surprised that CPO, a label famous for its excellence, let this one out of the studio. This is a company that can and has done considerably better in the past, and it is disappointing that their fine catalogue is marred by this very second-rate performance.

Notes, packaging and sound quality are excellent, but I cannot recommend buying the disc just for the cover art and booklet essay. A let-down on most counts.

Kevin Sutton


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