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CD: Crotchet

Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)
Clavier Music - Volume 1
Toccata in C (Belotti 6) [1:47]
Fugue in C 'Nachtigall' [2:16]
Toccata in C (Belotti 4) [2:14]
Toccata in F (Belotti 9) [2:59]
Fantasia in C [2:10]
Nun lob mein Seel' den Herren [2:12]
O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig [3:08]
Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund [2:16]
Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz [4:16]
Nun lob mein Seel' den Herren (colored) [3:40]
Partita 'Alle Menschen müssen sterben' [9:50]
Ciaconna in d minor [5:10]
Suite in e minor* [23:59]
Ciaconna in D* [9:04]
Fantasia in E flat* [3:52]
Franz Raml (harpsichord*, organ)
rec. 30-31 May 2008, Petrikirche, Freiberg; 21-22 September 2008 in Rot an der Rot*, Germany. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Johann Pachelbel played an important role in the history of keyboard music in Germany in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. As teacher of Johann Sebastian Bach's eldest brother Johann Christoph he substantially contributed to the development of the younger Bach as a composer of keyboard music. His chorale arrangements and partitas are regularly played by organists, but we still await a good complete recording of his keyboard music. The 'Vol. 1' aspect this disc raised my hopes that it would happen at last. But alas, it is only the first of two discs which intend to offer a portrait of Pachelbel as a keyboard composer. Having said that this presents a good overview of the various genres of Pachelbel’s keyboard music. The pieces also reveal some patterns in Pachelbel's style of composing.

Pachelbel was born and died in Nuremberg in Bavaria. At the age of 16 he entered the university of Altdorf, but was forced to leave it within a year as his father couldn't afford to support him. Because of his exceptional academic qualifications he was accepted as a scholarship student at the Gymnasium Poeticum in Regensburg. Here he also studied music under Kaspar Prentz, a protégé of Johann Caspar Kerll. Pachelbel was clearly influenced by Kerll, and through him by the Italian style. He worked for some time as deputy organist of the St Stephansdom in Vienna. After this he went to Eisenach and then to Erfurt to act as organist. Between 1690 and 1695 he worked in the same capacity in Stuttgart and Gotha. In 1695 he was invited to become organist of St Sebaldus in Nuremberg, an offer he gladly accepted. It is a token of his high reputation that no examination took place nor were the organists of other churches in Nuremberg invited to apply for the position. Also the fact that he had many pupils attests to his importance as organist and composer of organ music. It was in Nuremberg that Pachelbel also composed many vocal works which are hardly known today.

The chorale-based compositions are the direct result of his activities as organist in various churches. Franz Raml plays five chorale arrangements which differ from each other, for instance in the way the cantus firmus is treated. This can be at various pitches, from soprano to bass, and can be either ornamented or unornamented. The two arrangements of 'Nun lob mein Seel' den Herren' show how one and the same chorale can be treated differently. In the highly expressive 'O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig' Pachelbel uses a technique he applied pretty often: the so-called Vorimitation ('prior imitation'). This means that a part of the cantus firmus - in this case a line from the chorale - is anticipated by an imitative section based on material from that part. The chorale partita 'Alle Menschen müssen sterben' contains a chromatic variation, a phenomenon which appears in many of his partitas.

Pachelbel seems to have had a special interest in the variation. Not only did he compose eight partitas on chorales, but also six arias with variations which were published under the title 'Hexachordum Apollinis', three arias and one arietta as well as three chaconnes. Two of the latter are performed here, very different in character and played on organ and harpsichord respectively.

Here and in all other works for manuals without pedal there is no certainty for which instrument they were written. Franz Raml has decided on basis of his own assessment of the character of the various pieces which instrument serves them best. The exception is the Suite in e minor which obviously is written for the harpsichord. It has the common four movements: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. The addition of a double to the sarabande reveals the influence of the French style.

The Toccatas which open this disc are written for manuals and pedal and therefore intended for the organ. The two Toccatas in C are, together with the Fugue in the same key, performed as a unity, in the style of a North-German toccata. This may seem a little strange considering that Pachelbel has mainly worked in Central and Southern Germany. But he was certainly acquainted with the North-German organ school: Buxtehude was one of the dedicatees of his 'Hexachordum Apollinis'. From this angle the decision to play these three pieces this way is defensible, even though the Fugue is somewhat out of step with the Toccatas in that it is written for manuals only. Fortunately the producer has allocated each of these three pieces its own track, giving the listener the opportunity to play them independently if he so wishes.

Next follows the Toccata in F to which Franz Raml has given the nickname 'Pastorale' because of its character. In the track-list I have left it out in order not to confuse the reader in case he wants to search for this piece in Pachelbel's work-list or for other recordings of the same work. The Fantasia in c minor is another piece for manuals without pedal. It centres around a lively dotted figure.

Raml delivers a very good and convincing interpretation of these works. He has taken some liberties - which he accounts for in the programme notes - which are partly due to the obscurities in the manuscripts none of which are in Pachelbel's own handwriting. For his recording he has been in close contact with Michael Belotti who is editing Pachelbel's keyboard music. For the organ works Raml has chosen the Silbermann organ of 1714 in the Petrikirche in Freiberg. This is a very beautiful organ the colourful disposition of which is well suited to Pachelbel's chorale-based works. The temperament is Neidhardt 2, which dates from 1732. I wonder whether a meantone temperament wouldn’t have been more suitable for Pachelbel's music. It would have made the wry dissonances in, for instance, 'Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund' even more incisive. In general the character of the various chorales is done justice to, though. I assume Franz Raml knows the texts of the chorales, even though, in his programme notes, he refers to 'Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz' with a partly wrong text ('meine Seele' instead of 'mein Herz').

The harpsichord pieces fare equally well. Here Raml plays an instrument built by Bernhard von Tucher after an original harpsichord by Giovanni Battista Giusti. The Fantasia in E flat is considered a 'notated improvisation', and that is how Raml plays it. He manages to create a considerable amount of tension here.

In short, this is a very fine disc which it is hoped will be followed by an equally fine second volume. We must still hope that one day some keyboard player will record Pachelbel's keyboard music complete. He certainly deserves it.

Johan van Veen


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