With so many choices available for recordings of the ever-popular Canon by Pachelbel, why did I select this particular one?
Admittedly it was partly in memory of Jean-François Paillard, who has just passed away on 4/15/2013. He formed the Paillard Chamber Orchestra in 1953, and with that ensemble went on to perform and record many wonderful baroque pieces over the following years including perhaps most prominently the Canon by Pachelbel.
In the 1970's (perhaps as early as 1974, I've had difficulty establishing the exact date), Paillard and his Chamber Orchestra struck gold with this recording. It wound up being released in various forms including for example Go for Baroque. (Some accounts - see bach-cantatas.com - claim that it sold faster than Beatles records at the time). It was selected by Robert Redford for the soundtrack of his movie Ordinary People. Paillards recording of the Canon was at a slower tempo than had been common up to that time, and it had very finely delineated parts for the strings, both bowed and pizzicato. As packaged on the "Go for Baroque" album, it caught fire.
I also have the RCA disc The Pachelbel Canon, Albinoni Adagio and Other Baroque Melodies, which includes a later 1989 recording of Paillard and his Chamber Orchestra performing the Canon, but grouped with different baroque works than the disc here. Taken by itself, that recording of the Canon is probably equally as good as this current disc (in fact, it may be better if you prefer a more brisk performance, since it clocks in at almost a full minute quicker than the Canon as performed here).
Yet of the many discs that have been made available to us over the years with Paillard's ensemble performing the Canon, it is the combination of recordings included in this current Warner Apex disc - the Canon presented along with Pachelbel's Suite No. 6, Suite in G Minor, and Fasch's Trumpet Concerto and two Symphonies - that presents these recordings to us in the "original" grouping (if that matters to you).
Recorded in 1968, I don't know that this performance has ever been surpassed. And The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2008 agrees, listing this recording as their sole recommendation for these works. So that is one point in its favor!
The disc is acceptably full with 53 minutes of music, fully satisfactory at this price point. Following are the full contents of the disc:
- Track 1: Pachelbel: Canon in D major for strings and continuo
- Tracks 2-6: Pachelbel: Suite (Partita) No. 6 in B flat major
- Tracks 7-11: Pachelbel: Suite in G major
- Tracks 12-14: Fasch: Concerto in D major for trumpet, 2 oboes, strings and continuo
- Tracks 15-18: Fasch: Symphony in G major
- Tracks 19-21: Fasch: Symphony in A major
The other works included on the disc are also very enjoyable. Pachelbel's Suites are similar in flavor, light and noble, and Fasch's Trumpet Concerto and Sinfonia's are equally enjoyable. If you enjoy baroque music such as Handel's Water Music, then this will suite you very well.
The booklet provided with the CD includes brief but illuminating essay's on both Pachelbel and Fasch. Unfortunately no mention is made in the booklet of Paillard, his ensemble, or the particular performances that are memorialized on this disc. That would be my only complaint regarding this release, and perhaps Warner will remedy that at some point in the future (unlikely, but who knows?).
Every classical music collection should include a performance of Pachelbel's canon, and from my perspective this is the preferred selection. I purchased it from one of Amazon's marketplace vendors, for a ridiculously low price. I may buy more for my friends.
ADDENDUM added November, 2013:
After enjoying these Paillard performances of Pachelbel's Canon for many years, I've recently learned that, strictly speaking, they do not conform to the composition as originally written by Pachelbel, or as it was originally intended to be performed. It seems that Paillard added an additional viola part, pizzicato that did not exist in the original score, and modified the tempo of the performance significantly.
There are other recorded performances available which as far as I know are 'true' to the original score and the intentions of the composer -- for example this performance by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, which I have purchased myself recently, and also this performance by Andrew Manze which I do not have but I understand is similarly performed.
The Hogwood recording is quite different from the Paillard performances that I have enjoyed for a very long time. I can understand why Paillard decided to "jazz up" the Canon, and without the modifications he made I do not know if it would have become as popular or as successful as it turned out to be.
I will continue to enjoy both, and I'm not changing my review or my rating of this recording. But I wanted prospective purchasers to know that there is some additional background to this recording that may be important to some. I suggest listening to both the Hogwood and Paillard recordings before making a purchase decision; you may decide that you prefer the "original" version more than Paillards 'update'.