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Johann PACHELBEL (1653 - 1706): "Clavier Music Vol. 1"

Franz Raml, harpsichorda, organb
rec: May 30 - 31, 2008, Freiberg, Petrikircheb, Sept 21 - 22, 2008, Rot an der Rota
MDG - 614 1552-2 (© 2009) (66'40")

Alle Menschen müssen sterben, partitab; Ciaconna in Da; Ciaconna in d minorb; Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund, chorale arrangementb; Fantasia in Cb; Fantasia in E flata; Fugue in C 'Nachtigall'b; Nun lob mein Seel' den Herren, chorale arrangementb; Nun lob mein Seel' den Herren, chorale arrengement (colored)b; O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, chorale arrangementb; Suite in e minora; Toccata in C (Belotti 4)b; Toccata in C (Belotti 6)b; Toccata in F (Belotti 9)b; Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz, chorale arrangementb

Johann Pachelbel has 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 we still await a good complete recording of his keyboard music. The addition 'Vol. 1' to the title of this disc raised my hope it would happen at last. But alas, it is only the first of two discs which intend to offer a portrait of Pachelbel as a keyboard composer. Having said that this disc presents a good overview of the various genres of keyboard music Pachelbel has dealt with. The pieces on this disc also reveal some patterns in Pachelbel's style of composing.

Johann Pachelbel was born and died in Nuremberg in Bavaria. 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. But 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 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 chorale-based compositions are the direct result of his activities as organist in various churches. Franz Raml plays five chorale arrangements which differ from each other, for instance in the way the cantus firmus is treated. This can be at various pitches, from soprano to bass, and can be either ornamented or unornamented. The two arrangements of Nun lob mein Seel' den Herren show how one and the same chorale can be treated differently. In the highly expressive O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig Pachelbel uses a technique he applied pretty often: the so-called Vorimitation ('prior imitation'). This means that a part of the cantus firmus - in this case a line from the chorale - is anticipated by an imitative section based on material from that part. The chorale partita Alle Menschen müssen sterben contains a chromatic variation, a phenomenon which appears in almost any of his partitas.

Pachelbel seems to have had a special interest in the variation. Not only did he compose eight partitas on chorales, but also six arias with variations which were published under the title Hexachordum Apollinis, three arias and one arietta as well as three chaconnes. Two of the latter are performed here, very different in character and played on organ and harpsichord respectively.

Here and in all other works for manuals without pedal there is no certainty for which instrument they were written. Franz Raml has decided on basis of his own assessment of the character of the various pieces which instrument serves them best. The exception is the Suite in e minor, of course, which obviously is written for the harpsichord. It has the common four movements: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. The addition of a double to the sarabande reveals the influence of the French style.

The toccatas which open this disc are written for manuals and pedal and therefore written for the organ. The two Toccatas in C are, together with the Fugue in the same key, performed as a unity, in the style of a North-German toccata. This may seem a little strange considering the fact that Pachelbel has mainly worked in Central en Southern Germany. But he certainly was acquainted with the North-German organ school: Buxtehude was one of the dedicatees of his Hexachordum Apollinis. From this angle the decision to play these three pieces this way is defendible, even though the Fugue is a bit out of step with the Toccatas in that it is written for manuals only. Fortunately the producer has allocated each of these three pieces its own track, giving the listener the opportunity to play them independently if he so wishes.

Next follows the Toccata in F which Franz Raml has given the nickname 'Pastorale' because of its character. In the tracklist I have left it out in order not to confuse the reader in case he wants to search for this piece in Pachelbel's work list or for other recordings of the same work. The Fantasia in c minor is another piece for manuals without pedal. It centres around a lively dotted figure.

Franz Raml has delivered a very good and convincing interpretation of the keyboard works by Pachelbel. He has taken some liberties - which he accounts for in the programme notes - which are partly due to the obscurities in the manuscripts none of which are in Pachelbel's own handwriting. For his recording he has been in close contact to Michael Belotti who is editing Pachelbel's keyboard music. For the organ works Raml has chosen the Silbermann organ of 1714 in the Petrikirche in Freiberg. This is a very beautiful organ whose colourful disposition is well suited for Pachelbel's chorale-based works. The temperament is Neidhardt 2, which dates from 1732. I wonder whether a meantone temperament hadn't been more suitable for Pachelbel's music. It had made the wry dissonances in, for instance, Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund even more incisive. In general the character of the various chorales is done justice to, though. I assume Franz Raml knows the texts of the chorales, even though in his programme notes he refers to Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz with a partly wrong text ('meine Seele' instead of 'mein Herz').

The harpsichord pieces fare equally well. Here Raml plays an instrument built by Bernhard von Tucher after an original harpsichord by Giovanni Battista Giusti. The Fantasia in E flat is considered a 'notated improvisation', and that is how Raml plays it. He manages to create a considerable amount of tension here.

In short, this is a very fine disc which hopefully will be followed by an equally fine second volume. But we still must hope one day some keyboard player is going to record Pachelbel's keyboard music completely. He certainly deserves it.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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Franz Raml

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