Dallas — Of the many considerations given to the particulars of an organ recital, one could expect to observe the organ and the organist on separate planes. Certainly, any professional organist is obliged to work with the resources of an instrument to best fit an individual vision of the artistic fulfillment of a particular work. But it is not necessarily a given that the musician make an effort to fit their musical objectives to the capabilities of an instrument or performance space. Perhaps it could be seen as a compromise or falsification of musical force to think of this sort of approach.
After all, it is more interesting to hear an organ such at the C.B. Fisk Opus 100 which makes its home at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center transform into a different instrument with each performer. However, it is refreshing when an artist convincingly merges personality with the capabilities of an instrument. Such was the case on Saturday, June 6 as the Lay Family Concert Organ Recital Series presented organist Paul Jacobs.
From the beginning of the recital, which included J.S. Bach’s Sinfonia from Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29 and Mozart’s unusual but beautiful Andante in F major, K. 616, there was no attempt to apologize for creating music well outside of historical performance practice. A seemingly constant yet tasteful shifting in orchestration gave constant direction and held the listener’s attention captive. Particularly in the Mozart which was composed for a mechanical organ in a clock, the genius and wit of the music could not be well represented by a single sound concept as originally intentioned. One could imagine what the work would have sounded like coming from a mechanical device, but Jacobs gave life to the work in his own imaginative perception that never felt out of place at the Meyerson.
The Sonata in D minor, Op. 42 by French organist and composer Alexandre Guilmant completed the first half of the performance. Romantic and no less inventive in performance, the work gave Jacobs the opportunity to show off the ease at which he can create music. Unrelentingly virtuosic, rarely was a note dropped throughout. His rhythmic momentum particularly gave the work a perceived brevity in spite of its relative length.
The massive Introduction, Variations, and Fugue on an Original Theme, Op. 73 by Max Reger is a work which, in the wrong hands, can drag on beyond anyone’s attention span. But the assertive panache applied to the work this evening made it into a masterpiece. It would be difficult to count the number of changes in orchestration Jacobs employed in this performance. Normally, this can lead to the feeling that the organist is simply showing off the instrument, but what we heard was a creative, subtle, yet highly effective use of available sonic resources to give the work a movement that kept the audience riveted.
All of the program was polished, confident and arresting. It is hard to fault the very few mishaps in light of the pure virtuosity of the performance. Particularly impressive was the fact that the entire recital was performed without the use of sheet music.
Paul Jacobs is currently chairman of the organ department at the Juilliard School, a post he has held since 2004. Notable among his many accomplishments was a performance of the organ works of J.S. Bach–all of them–in an 18-hour performance in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death.