For those of you who have read my series So,What's Wrong with the Organ Anyway you know that I have considered Paul Jacobs as one of the very few organists on this planet capable of generating the same kind of excitement that Gustavo Dudamel, Nigel Kennedy, Marc-André Hamelin or Natalie Dessay engender. I must say his recital at Verizon Hall in Philadelphia's Kimmel Centre on Saturday (8/V/2010) did not fail to exceed one's expectations. Mr. Jacobs, who is the head of the Organ Department at the Juilliard School of Music, played an intriguing and very compelling programme of Mendelssohn, J. S.Bach, Boulanger (not the one you think), Franck, Oquin, and Reger which, at the end, left the audience completely exhilarated, if not exhausted.
Let me start off with a comment about the organ in Verizon Hall. This instrument is a testament to the concept that for an instrument (of any kind) to fully achieve it's tonal potential it must be played. So many organs in concert halls suffer from the condition of tonal decrepitude as a result of simply sitting there and quite literally rotting (leather dry rot) from inactivity. We hear stories of unplayable Stradivarius and Guarneri string instruments, or Broadwood and Erard pianofortes needing complete rebuilding because they were left sitting in museums unplayed; so it is with concert hall organs. It is to the Kimmel Centre's credit that they have actively promoted and kept their instrument in use via their recital series. As a result, the organ has become a warmer, better balanced instrument with the constant tweaking of its voicing, tuning, and playing since its installation five years ago.
Mr. Jacobs obviously appreciates this fact as illustrated by the rich full foundation opening of the Mendelssohn Sonata #1 in f Op. 65#1. One of the outstanding features of Mendelssohn's organ sonatas is that they are really quite orchestral in nature. Mr. Jacobs gave the first movement the full orchestral treatment by not merely adhering to the dynamic contrasts as called out the score; but, with each successive contrasting section you could almost sense the composer's naturally orchestral mind being applied through his exploitation of the organ's resources.
Mr. Jacobs made sure that no two sections were exactly the same; there was a constant evolution of registration leading to the next section. His rapid, seamless registration changes facilitated this linear path so smoothly, it all felt as natural as his breathing for each phrase. The secret to any great performance is how the artist understands the phrase. It's the shaping and clear articulation of each phrase and its relationship to every other clearly articulated phrase which drives the piece forward.Mr. Jacobs' rhythmic precision plainly demonstrated this fact.