BBC Music Magazine
Organ Works, Vol. 1: Chorale Partita ‘Ach, was soll ich
Sünder machen’, P7a; Ciacona in F minor, P43; Prelude in D minor, P407 etc
Matthew Owens (organ)
Resonus RES10285 71:03 mins
Instead of making his famous 400km walk north to hear Buxtehude in Lübeck in 1705, JS Bach could have headed south, and for half that distance, to meet Pachelbel in Nuremberg. He would have been only just in time, for Pachelbel died in 1706, but musical history might have been different.
Instead of the more adventurous and virtuosic Northern German style of Buxtehude, he would have encountered the gentler, Southern German idiom of Pachelbel, who had gained his different outlook over a career that took in several towns (though not Oxford – a position declined) before he eventually returned to the city of his birth. Until his Canon in D became a surprise hit about half a century ago, even Pachelbel’s extensive output of organ music was neglected. The hypnotic appeal of that famous work’s ground bass is something the composer developed elsewhere, and several of his organ works show a fondness for the chaconne form.
Probably the most important work on Matthew Owens’s new release is the Ciacona in F minor, a lovely and gently flowing piece that calls for maybe just a little more rhetorical freedom than it gets here. Elsewhere, Owens hits the mark every time. In the Prelude in D minor, the music’s conventional opening gives way to echoing chords that are strikingly handled. And the beautiful set of variations in the Chorale Partita on ‘Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen’ inspire light and airy registrations on the Frobenius organ of The Queen’s College, Oxford, a significant instrument ideally suited to his music.