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Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
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27 Nov 2007
Johann Pachelbel. Arien & Concerti
Although few composers have been so closely associated with a single work, Johann Pachelbel, whose canon for three violins has achieved canonical ubiquity, was a prolific composer with a number of vocal works to his credit.
This present recording brings together a number of them written for both devotional use and secular occasions, such as weddings, name days, and salutes to patrons and teachers. Most are strophic airs for one or two singers and strings, the latter providing interludes that serve to punctuate and articulate the structural boundaries of the vocal setting. Occasionally the interludes are particularly rich in sonority—“Mein Leben, dessen Kreutz” and “Augen, streuet Perlen Tränen” use four violas, for instance—and often they are engagingly rollicking.
The concertos on the recording are through-composed works, affording more expressive range for singer and instrumentalist alike, intertwining both in equal measure of soloistic writing. In some instances the concertos are cantata-like with multiple sections, including triple-meter lilting airs, as in “Ach Herr, wie ist meiner Feinde so viel,” and the instrumental writing can be floridly soloistic, as in the scordatura violin part to “Christ ist erstanden.” Here, and in “Ach Herr, wie ist meiner Feinde so viel,” the unflaggingly stylish playing of Ingrid Seifert of London Baroque is impressively on display.
Somewhat singular among the arias and concertos is the aria “Mœcenas lebet noch,” a salute to a person whose likely high rank elicited the scoring for obligatto trumpet. Michael Maisch performs this part with a compelling degree of vocality, and the tunefulness of the aria has a gratifying lilt, a lilt captured with animated relish in many of the arias in the collection. If “Mœcenas lebet noch” is singular, nevertheless most of the arias are cut of the same cloth, and the similarity is underscored here by the repetition of the strophic form. Some of the arias survive with only one stanza of text, and given the uniformity of the style, one might wonder at their inclusion; fragments, they are of necessity brief, but in their brevity they also contribute little that is new. Archivally it is welcome to have them recorded, but programmatically they seem a bit anomalous.
The performers are an impressive assembly. Emma Kirkby continues to command the amazingly clear articulation that has characterized her singing for many decades, and the rapid passage work here is wonderfully fluent. Tenor Jan Kobow is strong and intense, though he also has some fine expressive forays into the soft range in “Wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig.” The most memorable singing is from bass Klaus Mertens, whose rounded tone and flexible agility offers much to savor.
The collection Arien & Concerti provides many rewarding moments. Programmatically the generic similarity between the arias may suggest it is more a recording to sample than to listen to straight through, but the sampling (or the larger serving) will not fail to gratify.