musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Johann PACHELBEL (1653 - 1706): "Magnificat"

Himlische Cantorey
Dir: Jan Kobow

rec: July 4 & 5, 2017 (live), Nuremberg, St. Sebald
CPO - 777 707-2 (© 2020) (74'36")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Magnificat in C (PWV 1502); Magnificat in C (PWV 1504); Magnificat in F (PWV 1511); Magnificat in g minor (PWV 1513); Meine Sünde betrüben mich (PWV 1221); Missa in D (PWV 1302); Vergeh doch nicht, du armer Sünder (PWV 1504)

(*soloists) Irene Rodriguez Carbezuela, Charlotte Schäfer, Ina Siedlaczek*, Veronika Winter*, soprano; Anne Bierwirth*, contralto; Gerd Fischer, alto; Jan Kobow*, Sören Richter, tenor; Ralf Grobe*, Hans Wijers, bass
Almut Rux, Michael Maisch, Karel Mnuk, Uli Weymar, trumpet; Mechthild Karkow, Anne Schumann, violin; Irene Klein, Heidi Gröger, Lea Rahel Bader, viola da gamba; Patrick Sepec, viola da gamba, bass violin; Nora Hansen, dulcian; Michael Freimuth, lute; Johannes Weiss, organ; Frithjof Koch, timpani

The German composer Johann Pachelbel is almost exclusively known for his keyboard works and one piece for instrumental ensemble: the Canon und Gigue in D. The latter was already popular long before the revival of early music and the birth of historical performance practice. Pachelbel's organ works are frequently played by organists all over the world. Other parts of his oeuvre are largely ignored. Only a few number of discs are devoted to his sacred vocal works.

The disc under review here comprises pieces from two categories. On the one hand, we get four works on Latin texts, which are traditionally part of the liturgy: the Mass and the Magnificat. The remaining two pieces are sacred concertos on German texts.

The four settings of the Magnificat are part of a collection of music for the Vesper liturgy, which Pachelbel almost certainly composed when he was organist of St Sebald in Nuremberg. This collection is preserved in the library of St Michael's College in Tenbury. It includes 26 compositions by Johann Pachelbel and one by his son Carl Theodorus (1690-1750), who settled in the New World. In 1730 he became organist in Boston and Newport. On his way to America, he stayed in England, and there he seems to have sold the collection. It came into the possession of the composer William Boyce, and was auctioned in 1779, the year of Boyce's death.

The collection is particularly valuable for several reasons. First, it includes four autographs; second, a number of pieces in the collection are not known from other sources. The discovery of this collection substantially increased the size of Pachelbel's extant oeuvre. It comprises ten settings of the Magnificat and eleven of the Ingressus, the Lutheran terminology for the versicle 'Deus in adiutorium meum intende' and the response 'Domine ad adiuvandum me festina'.

Four Magnificat settings are the core of this recording of a live performance in St Sebald in Nuremberg in 2017. They are very different as the respective duration and scorings indicate. The Magnificat in C (PWV 1502) takes almost 19 minutes and is scored for 16 vocal and instrumental voices, whereas the Magnificat in g minor takes less than four minutes and is scored for four voices and basso continuo. Obviously this difference also has its effect on the way the text is translated into music.

The former setting, which opens this disc, is a sequence of sections for solo voices and tutti. The five part texture in all three 'choirs' (voices, strings, trumpets and timpani) is typical of the tradition of the 17th century, in which Pachelbel's vocal music is rooted. It is notable that this setting opens with a section for solo voices rather than the tutti. The various groups are used to create episodes of a dialogic nature, and the trumpets are effectively used to illustrate the 'Fecit potentiam' section: "He has shewed strenght with is arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts". Dissonances and repetition are used in the interest of text expression. The Magnificat in g minor is largely homophonic and omits solo episodes.

In between these two settings are those in F and in C (PWV 1504). The former is for four voices (soli and tutti), two violins and basso continuo, and includes an obbligato part for bassoon. The Fecit potentiam is allocated to a bass soloist; 'et misericordia eius' is sung by the tenor to a descending figure. The Magnificat in C has been preserved without the name of the composer, and therefore it cannot be attributed to Pachelbel with absolute certainty. It cannot be excluded that it was written by Carl Theodorus. What may speak against that, and in favour of his father, is the scoring for two violins and two violas (or viole da gamba). Like the larger setting in C, the instrumental ensemble includes parts for trumpets, this time two; no timpani are required.

The Missa in D is a rather short work, and consists of Kyrie, Gloria and Credo. The Kyrie takes less than one minute. It is notable that the Credo omits the latter half: the last section is 'Et incarnatus est'. The work is dated 1704, but Wolfgang Hirschmann, in his liner-notes, expresses doubts about this date. He points out that Pachelbel's successor as organist in Erfurt, Johann Heinrich Buttstett, also composed masses in which the Credo is abridged the same way. This seems to have been local custom, and that suggests that Pachelbel may have written this mass during his time in Erfurt (1678-1690).

The two sacred concertos on German texts by anonymous authors are for solo voice: Meine Sünde betrüben mich is for soprano, Vergeh doch nicht, du armer Sünder for tenor. However, their texture is different. The former is through-composed, and is a kind of dialogue between the soprano and the four-part tutti, in which sinfulness and mercy are juxtaposed. The soprano opens with the line "My sins sadden me", and then the tutti reply: "God's mercy delights me". The same contrast is expressed in the next section. The piece ends with the tutti, singing "God show mercy upon me, poor sinner". The parts of the bass viols include repeated notes, referring to the tremolo, often used to express sadness and despair.

The other concerto's tenor is comparable. It opens with the line "Do not despair, poor sinner" and ends with an assurance of God's mercy. It is an aria in four stanzas, which are set to different music. In the third, the strings play the hymn Wo soll ich fliehen hin (Johann Heermann, 1630). The instrumental ensemble is in six parts: five strings and basso continuo. The concerto ends with a long melisma on what is the crucial line of the piece: "And crown you with salvation and life".

Recordings of sacred vocal music by Pachelbel are rare. From that angle this release is a very important one. Himlische Cantorey is not the first to record pieces from the Tenbury collection: The King's Singers and Charivari Agréable recorded two Magnificat settings and four versions of the Ingressus. I was not very happy with the performances; Himlische Cantorey is much more idiomatic, which is no surprise as its members are seasoned interpreters of German music of the 17th and 18th centuries. In particular with regard to articulation and dynamics they come much closer to what is so characteristic of this repertoire. The solo parts are sung very well, and the voices within the ensemble blend perfectly. The instrumentalists substantially contribute to the expression, which is a feature of this recording.

As is almost always the case with CPO productions, the booklet includes several errors. In the libretto, the title and the lyrics of Vergeh doch nicht are erroneously printed as Verzag doch nicht. The Credo is printed complete, even though Pachelbel omitted its second half.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

CD Reviews