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[Off The Record]
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Pianist Paul Jacobs was one of the unsung heroes of the New York music scene. An authority on contemporary music, he was the New York Philharmonicís official pianist from 1961 until his death, from AIDS, in 1983. His premature passing deprived us of a proper appreciation of his legacy. Arbiter Records, whose reissue of his outstanding Busoni recordings for Nonesuch was one of last yearís highlights, has now brought out a collection of live recordings of material he never recorded commercially. Whatís fascinating in these performances is hearing Jacobsís probing intelligence wedded to an impetuosity and brio he seems to have revealed only to live audiences.

Thus his playing of Beethoven ó the Waldstein and Opus 10 No. 3 sonatas ó features extremes of tempo and a sensitivity to odd harmonies and off-kilter phrases. The first movement of the Waldstein goes by at a gallop, but Jacobs favors a dry, unpedaled sound, as if to lay bare everything in the score. The octave runs at the end of the sonata ripple past in a haze that seems to prefigure Debussy. Itís thought-provoking, even when it doesnít quite work. Heís on surer ground with Busoniís reworking of a Bach prelude and fugue, and with the steely dissonances and waltz pastiches of Ravelís Valses nobles et sentimentales. Best of all is a mad dash through Manuel de Fallaís Fantasía Baetica, smoldering virtuoso music that must have left its audience breathless.

The CDís conclusion ó a home recording of Jacobs playing Chambonnières, a French Renaissance master, on the harpsichord ó is an oddly fitting testament to his breadth of vision and musical curiosity. This is an important release that should raise the profile of a much underrated artist. Given the difficulties small labels have had lately, it may not be widely available. Order it through Arbiterís Web site ó ó if you canít find it in stores, because itís very much worth seeking out.


Issue Date: November 15 - 22, 2001

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