Pachelbel Hexachordum Apollinis
Hexachordum Apollinis is considered Pachelbel's finest composition in variation form. It consists of six Arias each comprising a theme and variations. The first five encompass the span of a perfect fifth but the sixth is something of an enigma; its home key deviates from the expected sequence forming the hexachord, it is in triple time while the others are in quadruple and it contains eight variations as against the five or six of the previous Arias. This final Aria, sub-titled ''Aria Sebaldina'' after the patron saint of the church in Nuremberg where Pachelbel was organist, has long intrigued scholars. John Butt is a highly respected scholar, although his energies have been concentrated more towards the performance practices current in Bach's time. He certainly practises what he preaches. His playing on this disc has complete self-assurance and a startling directness which brings it all very much alive. It would be hard to argue against such convincing playing.
Like much non-liturgical keyboard music of the time, Hexachordum Apollinis was not specifically intended for a particular instrument; indeed, the title-page of the original 1699 manuscript, reproduced in the accompanying booklet, depicts both an organ and a harpsichord. Butt's choice would seem particularly sensible. This organ dates only from 1982, but is built in the style of organs made around 1700 in Ostfriesland, on the Dutch/German border, and produces the kind of clear, intimate sound more associated with a domestic instrument than an ecclesiastical one. He uses its resources very sparingly and with unerringly sound judgement. This is one of a dozen or so organs forming the O'Neill Collection at the University of California where Butt is campus organist. Harmonia Mundi promise a series of recordings featuring these instruments; on the strength of this first release, this is going to be a most impressive series.'