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Johann PACHELBEL (1653 - 1706): "Festal Sacred Music"

Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble
Dir: Arno Paduch

rec: August 12 - 14, 2002, Mandelsloh, Ev. Kirche St. Osdag
Christophorus - CHR 77385 (R) (© 2015) (67'56")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Christ lag in Todesbanden; Der Herr ist König und herrlich geschmückt; Gott sei uns gnädig; Lobet den Herrn in seinem Heiligtum; Magnificat anima mea; Suite for theorboa

Irena Troupova, Annegret Kleindopf, soprano; Beat Duddeck, alto; Jörn Lindemann, tenor; Martin Backhaus, bass
Arno Paduch, Rebecca Reese, cornett; Robert Vanryne, Henry Moderlack, Sebastian Kuhn, Steffen Schwartz, trumpet; Sebastian Krause, trumpet, trombone; Britta Hinrichs, Bernd Schleyer, recorder, oboe; Kristina Filthaut, dulcian; Ghislaine Wauters, Elfriede Stahmer, violin; Beatrix Hellhammer, Hans Stahmer, Hella Hartmann, viola; Jörg Meder, violone; Margit Schultheiß, harp; Ulrich Wedemeier, theorbo (soloa); Klaus Eichhorn, organ; Frank Hiesler, timpani, percussion

The name of Johann Pachelbel is closely associated with music for organ. He was educated as an organist and worked in this capacity in several towns, including Erfurt - where he became acquainted with the Bach family -, Stuttgart and in the last stage of his life in Nuremberg, his birthplace. There he took the position of organist at the St Sebaldus Church which was the main post in the city's music scene.

The largest part of his output comprises organ music, and music for harpsichord. These works disseminated across Germany, mostly in manuscript, which attests to their popularity. The present disc includes a suite for theorbo which is probably a transcription of a work originally written for the harpsichord. The other works shed light on a lesser-known part of Pachelbel's oeuvre: his sacred vocal music. It is not quite clear when his motets and sacred concertos were written. As he worked almost exclusively as organist he was not expected to compose music for liturgical purposes. However, it was not uncommon for organists to write sacred vocal music which could be used in the liturgy. A telling example is Dietrich Buxtehude.

Pachelbel's vocal oeuvre includes eleven motets, ten of which are for eight voices in two choirs. The exception is Der Herr ist König und herrlich geschmückt which is for five voices and basso continuo. However, even this bears the traces of polychorality: the second soprano sometimes takes the role of an opposite 'choir', acting as an echo to the first soprano. The text is Psalm 93: "The Lord is King; he is clothed with majesty".

The two works which open and close the programme are written for a large ensemble of five voices and instruments. They must date from the later stages of Pachelbel's career as the instrumental ensemble includes parts for two oboes. These instruments of French origin made their appearance in Germany only towards the turn of the century. Lobet den Herrn in seinem Heiligtum is a setting of Psalm 150, and the scoring reflects the instruments to which the text of this psalm refers. It opens with a sinfonia and then the vocal section begins with a solo episode for tenor. The various verses are given to different voices which are accompanied by the kind of instruments mentioned in the text. "Praise him with trombones" is sung by the alto imitating the sound of the trombone which then enters the proceedings. The ensemble includes a harp which makes its appearance in the next verse: "Praise him with the psalteries and harps". The "pipes" in one of the next verses are represented by the recorders. The "loud cimbals" are depicted by the triangle, at least in this recording. I have not been able to find out whether this instrument was used in sacred music in Pachelbel's time.

The Magnificat has a more moderate scoring: the five voices are joined by strings, two oboes, bassoon, two cornetts and bc. The cornetts make themselves heard in "Deposuit potentes" (He has cast down the mighty from their thrones), a solo for the bass. The sacred concerto Gott sei uns gnädig is a setting of Psalm 67. Those sections of the text in which God's power is expounded are scored for five trumpets and timpani.

The most modern work in the programme is Christ lag in Todesbanden; it is one of the first pieces in Germany in the form of the cantata. There are clear similarities to the cantata on the same chorale by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 4). Every stanza is treated differently; the chorale melody is only quoted in three of them. The first, fifth and seventh are for the tutti, the others for one (bass) or two voices: soprano and tenor or bass, and alto and tenor. In "Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg" (It was a wondrous war) Pachelbel makes use of a composition technique from the early baroque era: the stile concitato. Such effects often crop up in battaglias.

This disc was first released in 2003, but Pachelbel's vocal oeuvre is still poorly represented on disc. Therefore this reissue is most welcome. One can only hope that it will encourage other ensembles to look into Pachelbel's vocal output. It is not very large but substantial and of high quality as this disc shows. It is served very well by these fine performances. The five singers know exactly how to bring this music to life. A performance with one voice per part seems justified, although additional ripienists could probably be an option. The instrumentalists bring colour to the performances, and are well aware of the meaning of the text, no less than the singers.

In short, this is a most enjoyable production, with compelling music and performances.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble

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