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Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)
Magnificat in C major PWV 1502 [18:36]
Meine Sünde betrüben mich PWV 1221 [9:22]
Magnificat in F (orig. G) PWV 1511 [12:55]
Missa in D, PWV 1302 [6:53]
Magnificat in G, PWV 1513 [3:45]
Vergeh doch nicht, du armer Sünder PWV 1225 [10:18]
Magnificat in C, PWV 1504 [12:02]
Himlische Cantorey/Jan Kobow
rec. 2017, Nürnberg, St. Sebald, Germany
CPO 777 707-2 [74:36]

The music of Johann Pachelbel is finally getting the attention it deserves, with some wonderful recordings of his organ music, including CPO’s complete survey, the third and final instalment of which I recently reviewed (777 558-2). Now the label turns its attention back to the composer’s vocal music. Having already recorded two discs of his cantatas, here we have no less than four settings of the Magnificat. Pachelbel composed around thirteen in total, along with a Mass setting and two sacred concertos.

The four settings of the Magnificat are quite diverse in both style and instrumentation and show differing influences, including that of Heinrich Schütz. The first setting on this disc is, at nearly nineteen minutes, the longest here as well as the most complex. It opens with the opening stanza repeated separately by the tenor and alto soloists over a simple organ accompaniment. The viola de gamba then enters, heralding the turn of the bass and soprano soloists. This is soon followed by a section of group singing accompanied by the instrumental ensemble which includes four trumpets and timpani. Here the influence of Schütz is strong, but it is in the way that Pachelbel blends the voices and instrumental music together that he shows his originality. The setting in F is a simpler affair, although there are some really nice contributions from the violins and the bassoon which work well with the continuo. In contrast, the setting in G minor is very simple and the shortest work on the disc, at less than four minutes long. This is less ornate that the other settings; the four solo voices are pitted against the simple continuo of organ, viol and lute. This is a setting more in keeping with use in a church service rather than a celebration.

We now come to the other works on this disc, starting with the Missa in D, which is dated 1704 and which in reality is a Missa brevis as it only consists of a Kyrie, a Gloria and a Credo. Composed for voices and basso continuo, this work is quite atmospheric and sounds liturgical; this despite the strange truncated Credo, which the notes tell us, was the practice in the area around Erfurt. That points to an earlier composition date than stated on the manuscript, as Pachelbel was an organist in the city between 1678 and 1690. Pachelbel's sacred concertos are different in texture.Meine Sünde betrüben mich, a setting of an anonymous prayer begging for forgiveness, is scored for solo soprano, solo vocal ensemble (SATB) and seven instrumentalists. The work exploits the plaintiff's longing for penitence whilst not being too dour and melancholy; the result is quite affecting. In comparison Vergeh doch nicht, du armer Sünder is scored for just a solo tenor, violin, four viols and basso contino. Here, the tenor Jan Kobow is in excellent form; he portrays the emotion of the text, which once again deals with the concept of sin (Do not despair, you poor sinner). Here, Pachelbel shows originality in the way that he sets each of the four verses of the text in a different way, giving the work variety and the musicians, especially the tenor, plenty of scope to shine, something that they all do well here.

The music is varied and interesting and has plenty to keep the listener's interest. This is helped by the fine musicianship of the Himlische Cantorey under the excellent direction of the tenor Jan Kobow. Their performance is wonderful and detailed, which only serves to make the music leap off the page; both the vocalists and the instrumentalists are on top form. Their excellence makes this disc very rewarding, something that is aided by the recorded sound. There are valuable booklet notes in German and English and the full texts and translations. This release is a must for all fans of Johann Pachelbel and of German baroque music in general.

Stuart Sillitoe

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