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Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)
Complete Organ Works III
Michael Belotti, Christian Schmitt, James David Christie (organ)
rec. 2009-2013, Germany
CPO 777 558-2 SACD [3 discs: 189:34]

Long before Pachelbel was known purely for his Canon - in fact, I have recently seen a disc called “Pachelbel’s Greatest Hit: The Ultimate Canon” - a collection of no less than fifteen different versions of the work  performed on different instrumentation and musical styles, a disc I was not tempted by - he was a highly regarded composer of organ music. Indeed, it was the three volumes of Pachelbel’s organ music performed by Nigel Allcoat on the Cantoris record label which made a lasting impression on me. I had hoped that this was the beginning of a complete cycle, but alas, to my knowledge, it ended with the third volume. There are many other fine recordings of Pachelbel’s organ music out there, but in 2013 CPO released a 5-CD set which constituted volume 1 of the composer’s complete organ music (review). This is a similar setup to this present set, the third and final volume; in that case, four organists performed the music again on early eighteenth-century organs, with the music being arranged into thematic groupings. This was followed in 2016 by volume 2 (review), which strangely included Psalmlieder III, leaving us to wait another three years for the conclusion of this 10-disc series, and a recording of Psalmlieder II. The wait was worthwhile, as this set is a very fine conclusion to this survey of the organ music of Pachelbel.

This series contains some lovely music and this final set is no different. Some pieces are on well-known themes whereas some are totally original music. Although Pachelbel’s setting of Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (disc 2 Tr 9) is a lot less well-known than the version by J S Bach, the performance here by Christian Schmitt shows that it is only through reputation that the Bach version gets all the plaudits. This is version of the well-known chorale should be much better known, and shows just why Pachelbel was held sin such high esteem as an organist and composer in his day. This is just one of many fine Psalm settings included here. The other chorale settings usually come in the form of a fughetta on the tune, such as Fughetta: Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ (CD 1 Tr 17). The many settings of the Magnificat continue here with a further eight dispersed through the three discs of this set. There are the expected stand-alone pieces, such as preludes, fugues and fantasias - each a little gem in their own right - while the toccatas which pepper this series show a composer who knew how to get the very best from his instrument, but it is the three chaconnes which stand out, especially the Ciaccona in f that concludes this set and the series as a whole. There are sections of this nine-minute chaconne that sound very modern, at one point reminding me of a section of La Belle et la Bête by Philip Glass.

As with the other sets in the series, the workload is divided among more than one organist; only Jürgen Essl, who features on the first two sets, is not featured here, with Michael Belotti, Christian Schmitt and James David Christie once again showing that they are consummate interpreters of this music. Each of the three organists employed here offers excellent performances, as they do throughout the whole series; indeed, this series might well become a benchmark for performing Pachelbel’s organ music. My three discs of Nigel Allcoat, which I revisited while reviewing this set, now seem to fail to make the grade when compared to these CPO recordings. This is partly down to the organ chosen for the recordings; Allcoat uses a modern instrument from 1998, while this set, like volumes 2 and 3, uses wonderful-sounding instruments which were constructed shortly after the composer’s death in 1706. The near-period sound does help to get to the heart of the music and, in addition, the recorded sound of these CPO SACD discs is far superior to the that of the Cantoris discs, with the CPO sounding more detailed and vibrant than the Cantoris. Finally, here, once again, Michael Belotti has included detailed and informative booklet notes which offer an introduction not only to the composer but also to each of the pieces included here, making this an absolutely superb set and series as a whole. It is a real must for all fans of Pachelbel fans and of baroque organ music in general. Despite the three sets being arranged thematically, you do not have to have all three to appreciate Pachelbel the organ composer, as any of them three sets would make a fine introduction - but you will find it difficult to stop at just the one!

Stuart Sillitoe

Disc 1: Passion
Michael Belotti on the Trost-Orgel von St. Walpurgis, Großengottern (1717)
Disc 2: Psalmlieder II
Christian Schmitt on the Orgel der Klosterkirche Reinau: Hauptogel 1715, Chororgel 1710/1746
Orgel von Johannes Creutzburg (1735) is St. Cyriakus Dudestadt.
Disc 3: Choralpartiten
James David Christie on the Vockland-Orgel (1735) der Crucis-Kirche Erfurt

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