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Johann PACHELBEL (1653 - 1706): "Complete Organ Works II"

Michael Belottia, James David Christieb, Jürgen Esslc, organ

rec: Oct 26 - 28, 2011, Simmern, Stephanskirchec; August 11 - 13, 2012, Bedheim, Kilianskircheab
CPO - 777 557-2 (2 CDs) (© 2016) (1.57'21")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann PACHELBEL: An Wasserflüssen Babylon (42)b; Aria in G (VIII.3)b; Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir (41)b; Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht (6) (also attr to JS Bach, BWV 1096)c; Ciaccona in G (VI App. 1) (ed. M. Belotti)c; Der Tag der ist so freudenreich (4)c; Fantasia in C (VI.1)c; Fuga super An Wasserflüssen Babylon (43)b; Fuga super An Wasserflüssen Babylon (App. 13) (attr)b; Fugue in C (II.7)a; Fugue in D (II.10)c; Fugue in G (II.30)c; Fugue in a minor (II.5)c; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (App. 1) (attr)c; Lob sei Gott in des Himmels Thron (5)c; Magnificat V. toni (M V.1-4) (4 fugues)c; Magnificat V. toni (M V.5-8) (4 fugues)b; Magnificat VI. toni (M VI.5-8) (4 fugues)c; Magnificat VII. toni (M VII.1-4) (4 fugues)a; Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (35)a; Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (36)a; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (1)c; Prelude in G (XI.G.1) (attr) - Fugue in G (XI.G.4 [2])a; Toccata in d minor (I.5) - Fugue in d (II.26)c; Toccata in F (I.9) - Fugue in F (II.2)c; Toccata in F (I.10)c; Toccata in B flat (IX.B.1) (attr)a; Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her (2)c; Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her (3) (attr)c; Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, bicinium (37) (attr)a; Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (38)a; Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (App. 12)a; Wo Gott zum Haus nicht gibt sein Gunst, fughetta (39)b; Wo Gott zum Haus nicht gibt sein Gunst (40)b; Georg Caspar WECKER (1632-1695): Fugue in B flat (IX.B.2)a

Johann Pachelbel played an important role in the history of keyboard music in Germany in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. As teacher of Johann Sebastian Bach's eldest brother Johann Christoph he has substantially contributed to the development of the younger Bach as a composer of keyboard music. His chorale arrangements and partitas are regularly played by organists, but until recently there was no really good complete recording of his keyboard music. That has changed with the CPO project of which the present set is the second instalment. The first volume included five discs, and after these two there are three more to come.

Johann Pachelbel was born and died in Nuremberg in Bavaria. One of his first teachers was Georg Caspar Wecker. At the age of 16 he entered the university of Altdorf, but was forced to leave it within a year as his father couldn't afford to support him. However, because of his exceptional academic qualifications he was accepted as a scholarship student at the Gymnasium Poeticum in Regensburg. Here he also studied music under Kaspar Prentz, a protégé of Johann Caspar Kerll. Pachelbel was clearly influenced by Kerll, and through him by the Italian style. He worked for some time as deputy organist of the St Stephansdom in Vienna. After this he went to Eisenach - where he established contacts with members of the Bach family - and then to Erfurt to act as organist. Between 1690 and 1695 he worked in the same capacity in Stuttgart and Gotha. In 1695 he was invited to become organist of St Sebaldus in Nuremberg, an offer he gladly accepted. It is a token of his high reputation that no examination took place nor the organists of other churches in Nuremberg were invited to apply for the position. Also the fact that he had many pupils attests to his importance as organist and composer of organ music. It was in Nuremberg that Pachelbel also composed many vocal works, which are hardly known today.

The first disc of this set includes music for Christmastide: here we find arrangements of some of the best-known hymns, which are still sung, such as Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her and Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ. In contrast, Lob sei Gott in des Himmels Thron is hardly known; it is from the pen of Michael Altenburg and was sung only in Thuringia. Vom Himmel hoch is played in two separate arrangements which show in what different ways a composer like Pachelbel could treat the same material. The second has an intimate character; it is the best-known of the two, but is has come down to us anonymously. For reasons of style it is attributed to Pachelbel, but there is no absolute certainty about the authorship. That is the case with quite a number of pieces; copies not always mention the name of the composer, and stylistically a teacher and his pupil could be so close that it is not always possible to attribute a piece to one of them. Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht is often included in recordings of the organ oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach as BWV 1096. It is included in the Neumeister Sammlung, an important source of chorale arrangements by Johann Sebastian and Johann Michael Bach. Michael Belotti, in his liner-notes, suggests that Johann Sebastian may have become acquainted with a fragment of this piece from the hand of Pachelbel and decided to finish it.

Both discs include a number of Magnificat-fugues. Pachelbel wrote around 90 of such pieces which date from his time as organist of St Sebaldus in Nuremberg. The Magnificat was part of the Vespers, and it is often suggested that these fugues were used as intonations to establish the pitch for the singers. However, Belotti comes up with a different explanation: they may have been used as part of the alternatim performances of the Magnificat. "The 12 verses in this canticle were presented in Latin by the choir and organ in alternation, with the organ playing the odd-numbered verses (1, 3, 5 etc) and the choir singing the even-numbered ones. In other words, each agent had six verses to perform. (...) Usually four fugues form a Magnificat cycle in a particular ecclesiastical mode." This means that two verses are missing. Belotti suggests that Pachelbel may have expected organists to improvise short toccatas on the first and last verses.

Fugues take an important place in Pachelbel's oeuvre, as the track-list shows. In contrast to common practice for most of the 17th century, in his oeuvre preludes and toccatas on the one hand and fugues on the other are formally separated. That was also to be the case later in Bach's oeuvre. However, whereas in the latter's output those are mostly connected, in Pachelbel's oeuvre we find quite a number of independent fugues. In this recording they are mostly connected by the performers to a prelude or a toccata.

The first disc also includes a first recording: the Ciaccona in G. It has the same ground bass as the first eight bars of the aria from Bach's Goldberg variations. It has been preserved in fragmentary form and is played here in a reconstruction of the missing parts by Michael Belotti.

The second disc is devoted to hymns based on psalms: Nun lob mein Seel den Herren (Psalm 103), Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (Psalm 124), Wo Gott zum Haus nicht gibt sein Gunst (Psalm 127) and An Wasserflüssen Babylon (Psalm 137). Some of them are explicitly meant for an organ with two manuals. They are played here at the organ in Bedheim, which is a quite peculiar instrument. In 1711 Caspar Schippel built a single-manual instrument with pedals in the organ loft. A second organ, connected with the console of the main instrument by trackers running along the church loft, was added by Nicolaus Seeber above the entrance to the choir in 1721. Owing to its high location beneath the ceiling, this instrument became known as the 'swallows' nest organ'.

The bicinium Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (37) was discovered recently, although its authenticity is not established. The cantus firmus is first played in the upper voice and then in the lower voice. Pachelbel treats the hymn melodies in different ways. Sometimes they are played unchanged, but in other cases they are highly ornamented, in the style of diminutions. Nun lob mein Seel den Herren (35) is notable for the cantus firmus being in the tenor, which is rather unusual. Another recent discovery is the Aria in G. It is of the kind we know from the collection Hexachordum Apollinis. The present piece includes five variations, one of them - as was common in Pachelbel's arias and chorale partitas - dominated by chromaticism.

This disc again includes some pieces of doubtful authenticity. Above I already mentioned one, and another one is the last item of the second disc, the fugue on An Wasserflüssen Babylon. Belotti suggest that it may be an arrangement of a piece by Pachelbel, made by one of his pupils. Like the first volume this disc includes a piece by Pachelbel's teacher Georg Caspar Wecker, the Fugue in B flat, added to Pachelbel's toccata in the same key (IX.B.1).

This is a worthy sequel to the first volume. The fact that several pieces are recorded here for the first time only adds to its value. It shows how important it is that these recordings are based on a new critical edition of Pachelbel's keyboard oeuvre, edited by Michael Belotti. The use of historical organs which are suitable for this repertoire is a precondition for a convincing interpretation. The three organists involved in this recording are all specialists in early music and know how to explore these organs for an optimal performance of Pachelbel's organ music. Thanks to the excellent articulation the musical discourse comes off to the full. The recording team deserves praise for handling the different acoustical circumstances in the two churches.

Organ lovers should definitely not miss this set, and I am eagerly awaiting the last volume which is already in the pipeline.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Jürgen Essl

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