Johann Pachelbel : Ingressi & Magnificats
Johann Krieger: Sonata à 5 in A minor
Johann Caspar Kerll: Sonata à 5 in G minor

The King's Singers & Charivari Agréable, dir. Kah-Ming Ng

Signum Classics SIGCD198


Classic FM Magazine

He's a Hall of Fame big-hitter, but there's far more to Johann Pachelbel than his thrifty Canon.
Two fine ensembles unite, bringing life to a forgotten Pachelbel gem.

Some news this month, fresh from the gleaming spires of Oxford. It concerns Johann Pachelbel - you know the chap, composer of that beautifully spacious yet understated Canon that rests on the ears like slices of chilled cucumber. Well, it turns out that Pachelbel's music isn't so much cucumber as chilly pepper, as witness the latest masterpiece from the elusive genius to have surfaced from dusty obscurity: his arresting spirited and utterly individual setting of the Vespers.

Where - you may be poetically declaring to Pachelbel's Vespers once you've heard it on this CD - have you been all my life? The answer is Oxford's Bodleian Library. At least, that's where the manuscripts have been since 1978, before which a cavalcade of characters including Pachelbel's son Carl, London organist Marmaduke Overend and his pupil the composer William Boyce took charge of them. The scores lay undisturbed in Oxford until 2009, when Baroque music specialist Kah-Ming Ng discovered them, gnawed by generations of sagacious Oxford rodents but otherwise eminently decipherable.

What Ng had stumbled upon was, in his own words, 'a summation of all that is endearing about 17th-century music'. Three centuries on from the Vespers' creation, he summoned his own Baroque ensemble Charivari Agréable and vocal group The King's Singers to a Gloucestershire church last June to breathe life into the Vespers for the first time since it was presented at the St Sebald Church in Nuremberg by the composer himself. The microphones of Signum Classics were on hand to ensure Pachelbel's reputation could at last be bolstered by a work of significant size, scope and vision.

And what an utterly more manifold character Pachelbel appears in his Vespers than in the plain beauty of his Canon. First of all, Pachelbel is passionate. Wander into St Sebald's one Sunday evening in the 1690's - as you do - and your senses would have been overawed by the most musically spectacular ecclesiastical celebration in the whole of protestant Germany. Pachelbel reached the summit of his creative powers when he returned to his hometown at the dusk of his creative life and wrote a series of Magnificats and Response settings for the church's Vespers services. What does the music sound like? Well, it's invigorating, sensitive, heartfelt and gloriously melodious.

This you can decipher even from Pachelbel's opening setting of the Vespers' responses. When he sets the words Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina ('O Lord hasten to help me') his music slips onto new and agile wheels as his five singers, weaving individual lines until now, are suddenly united in anguish. But the composer doesn't leave it there. He then asks those singers to pleadingly repeat the word festina ('hasten') at the apex of the musical phrase, before they collapse into frenzied imitative repetitions of the word. The effect is wonderfully effective - like a physical reaching upwards towards the deity. In this eight seconds of music alone Pachelbel sets out his stall as a composer of significant and individual talent.

Ng's musicians go on to perform four other settings of the opening Responses - none of them resting on the previous one's laurels - and two of his finest Magnificats, which also contrast markedly in design. In the first in C, there are more examples of Pachelbel gifting long, expressive lines to the individuals within the vocal ensemble and then suddenly thrusting them together as a choir to give emphatic weight to particular phrases. It's in the Magnificats, too, that you get an impression of Pachelbel's significant skill in instrumental writing suggested so beautifully by his famous Canon. His instrumental passages intricately weave the work's melodic themes around one another with the ease you expect from Bach. And when the two solo voices intone the 'Gloria' towards the end of the first Magnificat, they seem to become instruments themselves; shape, blend and sensitivity to the meaning of the words exudes from every musician. Pachelbel would hardly wish for better 21st-century advocates than these.

Andrew Mellor

The Times

There’s much more to Bach’s predecessor Pachelbel than his famous Canon. In every genre the 17th-century German knew how to charm, softening German rigour with Italianate vocal flourishes, as heard in this collection of long-forgotten Protestant church music. In solos, some of the King’s Singers’ voices lack sufficient heft; but joined together they bond into a bright rainbow of colours — just right for the music’s sunny demeanour. Bouncy instrumental support from Kah-Ming Ng’s Charivari Agréable.

Geoff Brown

The Sunday Times

For those who know Pachelbel only through the Canon, this disc will be revelatory. The music, unearthed and edited by Kah-Ming Ng, comes from a manuscript now in the Bodleian Library. It's not a complete Vespers setting, but includes five settings of the Ingressus and two Magnificats, all composed for a rich-textured ensemble of voices, strings and continuo. The influence of Monteverdi is evident in the music's contrasts of scoring and of mood, and in the sheer delight Pachelbel takes in writing virtuoso passage work. But there's also some counterpoint that looks forward to Bach. Each piece is beautifully served by the ensemble.

Stephen Petitt

lassical Music

Pachelbel is no longer a one-hit wonder. The Vespers fragments from late 17th-century Nuremberg show a craftsman who approaches greatness in passages such as the sensuous Quoniam from the E-flat Magnificat. Consistently engaging is the vigorous pacing in the chorals works and sonatas by Kerll and Krieger, the singers' luscious yet clean-cut sound justifying the transposition of the Verspers fragments.