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RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706) Keyboard Works
Fantasia in d minor (P 124) [1:58]
Aria I in d minor (P 193) [7:13] O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig (P 393) [5:52]
Toccata in g minor (P 468)* [1:36] Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (P 379)* [10:44]
Ricercar in c minor (P 419)* [4:57] Nun lob mein Seel den Herren (P 47)* [2:49]
Suite in e minor (P 436) [12:12]
Toccata in C (P 454) [undamped] [1:57]
Fugue in C (P 151) [3:08]
Ciacona in F (P 42) [9:42]
Toccata in C (P 454) [damped] [1:56]
Márton Borsányi (harpsichord, organ*)
rec 2016, St. Martin, Egerkingen, Switzerland KLANGLOGO KL1519 [64:04]
Johann Pachelbel was one of the most important composers of keyboard music in 17th-century Germany. He was influenced by Johann Jacob Froberger - himself a pupil of Girolamo Frescobaldi - and probably also studied with Johann Caspar Kerll in Vienna. Because of that he is generally considered a representative of the South-German organ school. Pachelbel himself was the teacher of Johann Christoph Bach, the elder brother of Johann Sebastian. Johann Christoph passed on what Pachelbel had taught him, and this way Johann Sebastian became acquainted with the Italian and South-German keyboard style.
Pachelbel is best known for his organ music, but his oeuvre also includes instrumental and vocal music, both secular and sacred. Even in the realm of music for keyboard his output is not confined just to music for organ. He also composed suites for harpsichord, and one of the best-known parts of his oeuvre is the collection Hexachordum Apollinis. It includes six Arias with variations. These are often played at the harpsichord, but can also be performed on the organ. That is the case with many of Pachelbel's keyboard works. In his time composers mostly did not specify the kind of keyboard instrument on which their compositions should be played. Obviously many pieces with a pedal part can only be played on the organ. But pieces based on sacred subjects - chorale preludes or chorale partitas - were not specifically or exclusively intended for the organ. The present disc includes the chorale partita Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, which opens with a harmonization of this chorale, followed by nine partite or variations. It is played here on the organ, but as it has no pedal part the harpsichord would have been a legitimate option. In line with Pachelbel's habits it includes one variation which is dominated by chromaticism.
An example of a sacred piece which can be played - and is played here - on the harpsichord is the chorale prelude O Lamm Gottes unschuldig, which is divided into two sections. The first is a free fugue, the second a variation with the chorale melody in the upper voice. Although the melody is broken up - which is inevitable as the sounds of the harpsichord fade away relatively quickly - it is not hard to follow its course. In contrast the cantus firmus in Nun lob mein Seel den Herren is in the middle voice. Even so, thanks to the registration Márton Borsányi has chosen, it is clearly audible.
Though Pachelbel may have been under the influence of the Italian style, there are also French influences in his keyboard oeuvre. In the Aria I in d minor from Hexachordum Apollinis he makes use of the style brisé, which French harpsichord composers borrowed from the lute composers of the 17th century. In the Suite in e minor the sarabande is followed by a double. In this suite Borsányi includes a second courante, taken from another suite. In the liner-notes several reasons are given for this decision. There is no need to summarize them here, but we know from sources of the time that composers were pretty flexible in regard to the way their music was played. It was certainly not uncommon to select single movements or to add some other pieces.
In a programme of keyboard music from the 17th century one can expect to see forms like the ricercar, fantasia and toccata. These were frequently used by composers of the time. The former was originally based on vocal models and is dominated by counterpoint, in the other two the composer could give his imagination free rein. The pieces of this kind which have come down to us, usually found their origin in improvisation, one of the main skills required of organists. Also very popular among composers were variations on a basso ostinato, such as the passacaglia and the ciacona. The present disc includes a splendid example: the same bass pattern is repeated more than 30 times, and the variations become increasingly virtuosic, which has quite a dramatic effect.
I am very happy with this disc. Márton Borsányi delivers outstanding interpretations. It is his first commercial recording, and he could not have made a better debut. If you don’t know Pachelbel's keyboard music this is an excellent opportunity to get to know it. However, even if you have several discs with Pachelbel’s keyboard works in your collection, there is every reason to add this disc. That has much to do with the choice of instruments. The organ works are not - as is mostly the case - played on a large organ, but on a small instrument built in 2015; with pipes made exclusively of wood. Although it has only three stops Borsányi is able to create quite some variety in the variations on Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan. The diapason of the instrument is based, with minor modifications, on that of the 17th-century Nuremberg organ builder Manderscheidt.
Even more interesting is the harpsichord. It is a modern instrument based on a harpsichord of 1679 by Ioseph Ioannes Couchet, member of a family of keyboard builders which descended from the famous Ruckers dynasty. “Couchet's instrument of 1679 had only one manual, like its modern counterpart of 2015, but one of its unique characteristics are the two stops within the 8' choir that can be chosen independently of one another. The two 8' stops pluck the strings at a different distance from the nut, thus producing a different set of harmonics. The front stop is plucked closer to the nut and consequently produces a much brighter sound, rich in overtones, while the back stop produces a much darker colour, with fewer overtones from the same string”. The instrument also has a 4' stop and a buff stop. This results in a considerable number of possibilities in regard to registration, which are used effectively here. The Toccata in C is played in two different registrations, called ‘damped’ and ‘undamped’. The difference is not spectacular, but clearly noticeable. In the first registration the sound is stronger, giving the impression that a 16' stop is used, but not as heavy, and certainly more natural than a 16'. The use of this instrument is stimulating and thought-provoking in regard to the use of instruments for keyboard repertoire of the 17th century.
This aspect alone is a good reason for awarding this a Recording of the Month.