Pachelbel: Organ Works, Vol 1

Pachelbel: Organ Works, Vol 1
Matthew Owens
1965 Frobenius Organ, The Queen’s College Chapel, Oxford
Resonus RES10285. 71’03

In what promises to be a comprehensive survey of Johann Pachelbel’s organ music, Matthew Owens explores what is probably this enigmatic composer’s least appreciated genre. Pachelbel (1653-1706) was based in South Germany at a time when the famous North German organ school was at its height – he died a year before Buxtehude. His music has been overshadowed by his contemporaries in the northern cities, and this series of recordings should do much to rekindle knowledge of his specific musical style. It will hopefully put to rest his unfortunate post-1970s reputation as the composer of the famous Canon – a piece that is hardly ever performing in a style that Pachelbel would remotely recognise.

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Ensemble Les Surprises
Ambronay Editions AMY051. 58’16

Mysterien Kantaten

Music by Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Bruhns, Bernhard, Scheidemann, Reincken

Taking its title from Biber’s Mystery Sonatas (although not actually including any of those pieces), this recording from Les Surprises delves into the mysteries of life and death with an exploration of late 17th-century North German sacred cantatas of Buxtehude, Bruhns and Bernhard. What was particularly interesting for me to listen to, as an organist, were the arrangements of two well-known ground bass organ pieces for instruments. The CD opens with a version of Pachelbel’s Ciaconna in F minor, based on a repeated descending four-note bass line. We are then plunged straight into the world of death, with the Klag Lied, Buxtehude’s extraordinarily moving reflection on the death of his own father, whose last days were spent in his son’s home in Lübeck. It is followed by Nicolaus Bruhns’ cantata for bass voice meditation on death, De profundis clamavi and the second of the instrumental arrangements of organ pieces, Buxtehude’s Passacaglia in D minor. The programme notes (perhaps rather too unquestionably) the admittedly rather good theory that this is based on the lunar month and the phases of the moon, with its 28 variations and four sections, each with a distinctively different mood.  Continue reading

Ein neues Lied: Martin Luther and music

Ein neues Lied: Martin Luther and music
Renaissance Singers, Gawain Glenton
St George’s Bloomsbury
29 October 2017

The Renaissance Singers were founded in 1944. They played an important part in the revival of interest in Renaissance sacred polyphony as the early music movement grew and developed. They continue under the musical direction of David Allinson. For this exploration of the music of Martin Luther and the early Lutheran Church, they were directed by Gawain Glenton. The anniversary of the founding of Lutherism was just a few days away from this concert (on 31 October), so it was a timely reminder of theimportance of music to Luther.  Continue reading

Meister: Il giardino del piacere

Meister: Il giardino del piacere
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
St John’s Smith Sq. 8 May 2016

Meister: Il Giardino del piacere: La Musica Nona, Duodecima & Terza; Pachelbel: Partie II (Musicalische Ergötzung) & Partie V; Keller Chaconne; Biber: Partia VI (Harmonia artificioso-ariosa)

For the launch concert of their latest CD (of the music of Johann Friedrich Meister, reviewed here), Ensemble Diderot contrasted three of Meister’s 1695 La Musica  sonatas with music by his near contemporise Pachelbel, Keller and Biber. We know little of Meister. He seems to have come from Hanover or thereabouts, and certainly worked in the Ducal Court there. After a dispute about pay, he moved to the Lübeck area before moving north to Flensburg in Schleswig (then part of Denmark and now the most northerly city in Germany) where he was organist of the Marienkirche and also work for the local Ducal Court.  His collection Il giardino del piacere, overo Raccolta de diversi fiori musicali, come sonate, fughe, imitationi, ciaccone, passagaglie, allemande, correnti &c. was published in Hamburg in 1695, shortly before his death.

His music seems to sum up the varied and exciting music of that period in German musical history, a time still dominated by the stylus phantasticus, or fantasy style of free and often rather anarchic musical structures. The latter is shown in the fact that none of the three pieces played had the same format. Although all open with a Sonata, usually with a central fugal section, the following dances seem to be in almost random order and style, although they all end with a Gigue. The two pieces by Pachelbel were similar in structural style, although they both included a distinctive and lively Treza movement. The Biber Partita VI (that ended the concert) was built around an imaginative central set of 13 variations, with an opening Praeludium and closing Finale. The Pachelbel Musicalische Ergötzung was played with two piccolo violins, with scordatura tuning, making a nice tonal contrast to the sound of normal baroque violins.

Diderot.jpgJohannes Pramsohler and his three fellow musicians of Ensemble Diderot relished the contrast between and within the various pieces, playing with an exquisite combination of consort and individuality. Their intonation was perfect throughout, and they managed to bring exaggeration to the already exciting music without ever pushing things too far. I particularly liked the fact that, despite having a clear group leader, his playing never dominated. These were true Trio Sonatas, where the balance between the three voices is vital – and Roldán Bernabé and Gulrim Choi had important contributions on second violin and cello. Philippe Grisvard’s harpsichord continue was delicate and sensitive, correctly avoiding the temptation to do too much.

Johannes Pramsohler introduced the music in a delightfully informal, but occasionally rather lengthy manner.

Organ Music before Bach

Organ Music before Bach
Kei Koito.
1736 Johann Jakob Hör organ, Pfarrkirche St. Katharina,Wolfegg, Germany
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi – Sony Music 8843040912. 78’37

Pachelbel Toccata in D Minor, Ciacona in D Minor, Fantasia in D Major (ex E-Flat Major), Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her, Toccata in G Minor, Ciacona in G Minor (ex F Minor), Fantasia in C Major, Toccata in C Major, Prelude in E Minor, Fugue in E Minor; Muffat Toccata prima, Ciacona in G Major, Toccata decimal; Fischer Ricercar pro Festis Pentecostalibus, Chaconne in F Major, Rigaudon & Rigaudon double, Passacaglia in D Minor; Kerll Passcaglia in D Minor;  Froberger Ricercar in D Minor, FbWV 411, Canzon in G Major, FbWV 305, Meditation faist sur ma Mort future laquelle se joue lentement avec discretion, FbWV 611a

Despite the all-encompassing title of this CD, the focus is on German organ music before Bach and, more specifically, South German and Austrian music. The opening piece is by Pachelbel, an organist composer raised in the strict Lutheran tradition.  But the Italian influence is immediately apparent. Like so many other Continue reading