Some composers are mainly known by just one piece. Luigi Boccherini,
the composer of the minuet, is one example. Johann Pachelbel
is also mostly known because of a single piece, the Canon.
Organists know his organ works well, and these are frequently
played in organ recitals as well as in the liturgy. He was a
versatile composer and also wrote a number of instrumental pieces
and vocal works, both sacred and secular.
Johann Pachelbel worked in various places, but the last and
most important position he held was that of organist at the
St Sebaldus in Nuremberg. There he was also expected to compose
vocal music for the liturgy, and to that category belongs the
music on this disc. The title is not quite correct, though.
It suggests that we get a Vesper liturgy, but that is not the
case. In fact, only two elements of the Vespers are performed,
as the track-list shows. The Ingressus is the Lutheran
terminology for the versicle 'Deus in adiutorium meum intende'
and the response 'Domine ad adiuvandum me festina'. This disc
contains five settings of these two chants, for four to five
voices, with a six-part string ensemble and, as Pachelbel specifically
requires, a bassoon. In addition there are two settings of the
The music on this disc has been preserved in the Bodleian Library
of Oxford University. The manuscripts reached Britain thanks
to Pachelbel's son Carl Theodorus, who in the early 1730s emigrated
to America. On his way he passed through London, where he left
the manuscripts. They are first mentioned in a sale catalogue
for an auction in 1779.
All the pieces consist of sequences of soli and tutti. Elements
in the text are emphasized in that they are set for the full
ensemble. The pieces also contain many passages with extended
melisma, for instance on the word 'gloria'. In most settings
of the Ingressus much weight is given to the closing
section, 'Sicut erat in principio', for instance by setting
it in the form of a fugue, as in the Ingressus in e minor.
All the pieces - with the exception of the last two - begin
with an instrumental Sinfonia.
As one can see from the track-list all compositions are transposed
down. No reason is given in the programme notes, but I assume
in the original key the upper part is just too high for the
male altos of The King's Singers. I regret this decision: the
choice of performers should be adapted to the requirements of
the repertoire, not the other way around. The King's Singers
are an excellent vocal group, but more experienced in music
of the renaissance and contemporary repertoire than baroque
music, and especially German music. And that shows, because
as well as they sing, the performance of Pachelbel's Vesper
music doesn't sound quite right.
The singers - and in particular the altos and the tenor - produce
a sound which seems to me typically British, and would never
be taken for German. An ensemble like Cantus Cölln would
sing this music very differently, and for sure stylistically
more convincingly. The "open" sound of the King's Singers doesn't
really suit, and there is also too much legato singing and too
little dynamic shading. The singers have quite individual voices,
which fail to blend all that well in the tuttis. I also regret
the Italian pronunciation of the Latin texts.
Charivari Agréable shows a little more awareness of the
requirements of German music. The inclusion of the sonatas by
Johann Krieger and Johann Caspar Kerll is not explained by Kah-Ming
Ng in the booklet, but stylistically they fit well into the
This disc is important in that it considerably adds to our knowledge
of Pachelbel as a composer of vocal music. The pieces are recorded
for the first time, and as the repertoire is of fine quality
this disc deserves praise. But I hope that at some time in the
future this music will be recorded in a stylistically more appropriate
Johan van Veen