The name of Johann Pachelbel is closely associated with music for organ.
He was educated as an organist and worked in this capacity in several towns,
including Erfurt - where he became acquainted with the Bach family -
Stuttgart and in the last stage of his life in Nuremberg, his birthplace.
There he took the position of organist at the St Sebaldus Church which was
the prime post in the city's music scene.
The largest part of his output comprises organ music and music for
harpsichord. These works disseminated across Germany, mostly in manuscript,
which attests to their popularity. The present disc includes a suite for
theorbo which is probably a transcription of a work originally written for
the harpsichord. The other works shed light on a lesser-known aspect of
Pachelbel's oeuvre: his sacred vocal music. It is not quite clear
when his motets and sacred concertos were written. As he worked almost
exclusively as organist he was not expected to compose music for liturgical
purposes. However, it was not uncommon for organists to write sacred vocal
music which could be used in the liturgy. A telling example of a composer
active in this way is Diederich Buxtehude.
Pachelbel's vocal oeuvre includes eleven motets, ten of which are
for eight voices in two choirs. The exception is Der Herr ist König und
which is for five voices and basso continuo.
However, even this bears the traces of polychorality: the second soprano
sometimes takes the role of an opposite 'choir', acting as an
echo to the first soprano.The text is Psalm 93: "The Lord is King; he
is clothed with majesty".
The two works which open and close the programme were written for a large
ensemble of five voices and instruments. They must date from the later
stages of Pachelbel's career as the instrumental ensemble includes
parts for two oboes. These instruments of French origin made their
appearance in Germany only towards the turn of the century. Lobet den
Herrn in seinem Heiligtum
is a setting of Psalm 150, and the scoring
reflects the instruments to which the text of this psalm refers. It opens
with a sinfonia and then the vocal section begins with a solo episode for
tenor. The various verses are given to different voices which are
accompanied by the kind of instruments mentioned in the text. "Praise
him with trombones" is sung by the alto imitating the sound of the
trombone which then enters the proceedings. The ensemble includes a harp
which makes its appearance in the next verse: "Praise him with the
psalteries and harps". The "pipes" in one of the next verses
are represented by the recorders. The "loud cimbals" are depicted
by the triangle.
has a more moderate scoring: the five voices are
joined by strings, two oboes, bassoon, two cornetts and bc. The cornetts
make themselves heard in "Deposuit potentes" (He has cast down the
mighty from their thrones), a solo for the bass. The sacred concerto
Gott sei uns gnädig
is a setting of Psalm 67. Those sections of the
text in which God's power is expounded are scored for five trumpets
The most modern work in the programme is Christ lag in
; it is one of the first pieces in Germany in the form of
the cantata. There are clear similarities to the cantata on the same chorale
by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 4). Every stanza is treated differently; the
chorale melody is only quoted in three of them. The first, fifth and seventh
are for the tutti, the others for one (bass) or two voices: soprano and
tenor or bass, and alto and tenor. In "Es war ein wunderlicher
Krieg" (It was a wondrous war) Pachelbel makes use of a composition
technique from the early baroque era: the stile concitato
effects often crop up in battaglias
This disc was first released in 2003, but Pachelbel's vocal oeuvre
is still poorly represented on disc. Therefore this reissue is most welcome.
One can only hope that it will encourage other ensembles to look into
Pachelbel's vocal output. It is not very large but substantial and of
high quality as this CD shows. It is served very well by these fine
performances. The five singers know exactly how to bring this music to life.
A performance with one voice per part seems justified, although additional
could probably be an option. The instrumentalists bring
colour to the performances, and seem well aware of the meaning of the text,
no less than the singers.
In short, this is a most enjoyable production, with compelling music and
Johan van Veen